PUC officials propose local expansion of calling areas

Craig to Steamboat Springs could become local call

If a proposal on the table is accepted, residents in Moffat and Routt counties may have a larger local calling area.

The Colorado Public Utilities Commission (PUC) recently opened a formal proceeding to take public comment on how to spend $8 million marked for local calling area expansions. Local calling areas are those telephone exchanges a community can call without paying long-distance charges.

The general public will soon decide how these expansions will occur within 719 and 970 area codes.

Routt and Moffat counties have presented a written proposal to the PUC.

"Moffat County did make a proposal with Routt County for combining calling areas," said Barbara Fernandez, spokeswoman for the PUC. "My understanding is that it is a strong proposal."

Long-distance charges are currently applied on calls between Moffat and Routt counties.

Routt County Commissioner Dan Ellison believes Routt and Moffat counties should have a strong case in obtaining funds from the PUC.

"We have three buses running daily from Craig to Steamboat in the winter and 60 percent of our employees at the Twentymile Coal Company live in Moffat County," Ellison said. "It makes sense to look at this."

Public meetings have been scheduled and anyone interested in expanding local calling areas may submit a written proposal to the PUC by Nov. 30 explaining in detail why a certain request meets the community of interest standards.

"I think US West is aware of what we're doing," Ellison said. "We are hammering on them and this may be a time that US West will just throw us a bone."

Ellison said the proposal makes sense.

"Virtually anyone in Rio Blanco County can call Moffat County as a local call," he said. "Why shouldn't Routt County be able to call Moffat County (as a local call)?"

Following written comments, PUC staff will review the proposals and make a final decision.

Criteria for interest standards include calling volumes and patterns between communities such as local calling for 9-1-1, government, school, business, police and fire, and medical purposes and the location of primary business, employment, housing and transportation centers. The PUC will hold these town meetings in October and November.

The $8 million comes from an $84 million settlement from US West, the PUC and the Office of Consumer Counsel. This settlement will provide US West with the ability to adjust prices more quickly to meet competition in its local and in-state long-distance markets.

"The settlement gave US West pricing flexibility in services that are not basic services," Fernandez said. "In trade, US West agreed not to pass on certain rate increases."

"Phone customers should be pleased with this agreement," Bruce Smith, director of the PUC, stated in a press release. "It ensures that many local phone charges will either hold steady or drop over the next few years. It also includes commitments by US West to invest millions of dollars to further improve Colorado's telecommunications network. In addition, it is a significant step away from traditional regulation."

The agreement will also add $40 million to improve telecommunications services in Colorado without increasing rates. Also, according to the agreement, if the PUC orders expansion of local calling areas in the 719 and 970 area codes, US West agreed to forego implementation costs and includes a $12 million reduction in interest that US West charges long-distance companies to use its local telephone network.

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