Verizon must report monthly on northern Idaho outages
After receiving three separate complaints, the Idaho Public Utilities Commission is ordering Verizon Northwest, Inc. to provide monthly reports on local service outages in the company’s Orofino, Peck, Pierce and Weippe exchanges. Further, Verizon is ordered to credit customer bills whose repairs were not made within time limits established in the commission’s customer relations rules.
The first complaint came last June from Clearwater Valley Hospital and Clinics in Orofino, which alleged phone service was “either intermittent or non-existent” from June 12-14, 2007. The hospital claimed it was unable to perform critical functions during that time, including calling air ambulance for a critically ill patient, sending radiology images and providing electronic medical record information to physicians. The hospital said it had to rely on a backup radio system that routes calls through Boise and then to Lewiston.
In a report filed with the commission in September, Verizon said a failure of a component in the company’s microwave system impacted radio transmissions, causing half the service capacity to be interrupted in the four exchanges. Verizon made repairs, but said the long-term plan for addressing the microwave problem is to add additional high-capacity circuits, with construction beginning in the second quarter of this year.
Since the repairs, Verizon maintained the microwave radio systems have been running error-free. However, while the hospital’s complaint was pending, commission staff received two more complaints from within the same Verizon exchanges.
One complaint was lodged Sept. 1 by an assistant fire chief for the Upper Fords Creek Rural Fire Department in Clearwater County who said that emergency 911 service was disabled and not repaired until Sept. 4, after the Labor Day weekend. A second complaint came on Nov. 9 from customers in the Konkolville and Grangemont areas of the Orofino exchange. The customers said local service was disrupted to about 250 to 300 customers. Verizon restored service 25 hours later.
Beginning Feb. 11, Verizon must file monthly service outage reports for the four exchanges and continue doing so until the high capacity circuits are added, the commission said.
The commission criticized the company for waiting through the Labor Day weekend to restore service to the Fire Department. “We find that waiting to restore telephone service until of the conclusion of the three-day Labor Day weekend is unreasonable in light of the minimum repair standards set out,” in the commission’s customer relations rules, the commission said. Commission rules require service restoration within 24 hours during the week and within 48 hours when the outage is reported between noon on Saturday and 6 p.m. on Sunday.
The commission also expressed concern that Verizon is not crediting customers the full amount required when service is not restored within the time limit rules. Verizon said it credited customers, but was not specific as to whether it credited customers the full amount as specified in the commission’s customer service rules. The rules require customers be “automatically credited” with at least one month of local exchange service if service is not restored in a timely manner. Part of the report due the commission must include the total number of customer credits provided.
In 2005, the Idaho Legislature removed much of the commission’s regulatory authority over wireline telephone companies such as Verizon and Qwest, maintaining that because of increased competition, price regulation is no longer required. However, the commission did retain limited regulatory authority over such matters as service quality standards, customer relation rules and billing practices and procedures.
Verizon serves more than 118,000 wireline customers in 34 exchanges in northern Idaho.
Copies of the commission’s order and other documents related to this case are available on the commission’s Web site at www.puc.idaho.gov. Click on “File Room,” and then on “Telecommunications Cases,” and scroll down to Case No. VZN-T-07-03.