US West officials say service is improving


— Hounded by complaints from customers who have waited too long to have their phone lines installed or repaired, US West said Monday the worst is over and pledged significant service improvements across its 14-state region by the end of the year.

The company has increased capital spending by 40 percent this year, hired thousands of new employees and revamped its training programs as part of a ''sweeping service initiative'' its president said has begun to bear fruit.

''We have turned a corner,'' said Solomon Trujillo. ''The numbers really do show that we've turned a corner. And we are going to continue to improve, and we are committed.''

He pointed to improvements measured by two key gauges of service quality: held orders, or how long customers must wait to get service installed; and repair intervals, or how long they wait to have broken phone lines fixed.

Installation time was at its worst in August, when nearly 4,500 customers waited more than a month for service. Trujillo said that number was down by about 10 percent in September and promised it will decrease by 30 percent, to about 3,100, by year's end.

As for repairs, in August only about half the customers with broken lines had service restored within 24 hours. That figure was up to about 60 percent in September and will reach 65 percent by the end of the year, Trujillo said.

That would still fall short of the state standard set by the Colorado Public Utilities Commission, which says 85 percent should be fixed within a day. Trujillo said that is unrealistic, partly because of outages caused when other companies cut cables, and should be decreased.

US West ranked last among Baby Bells for the fourth straight year in a customer satisfaction survey whose results were released in August by the marketing information firm J.D. Power and Associates.

In Colorado, the company faces potential disciplinary action for its service and repair delays, as well as a lawsuit that accuses it of deceiving local customers, spending money to court merger partners instead of improving service, and cutting costs at the expense of service.

Trujillo acknowledged the Baby Bell has had ''service issues out in the community and across the 14-state region'' of Colorado, Wyoming, Utah, Arizona, New Mexico, Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, Minnesota, Iowa, Nebraska and the Dakotas.

However, he stressed most customers have not complained and listed several factors the company has cited in the past: growth, obligations under the 1996 Telecommunications Act, competition and the responsibility as the ''provider of last resort.''

Trujillo said customers are dissatisfied with their US West service in 3 percent of all cases, adding, ''When you look at the 3 percent on the volume of business that we do today, if you're one of those 3 percent customers, it's not a good experience.''

Trujillo spoke in a glass-walled conference room in the middle of a spacious US West computer center lined with colorful screens a sharp contrast to the customer complaints that convey the image of the century-old company as a sluggish behemoth.

US West has also been criticized for putting money into advertising split-second Internet access while some customers have to wait weeks or months for a primary phone line, but Trujillo said small businesses and other customers are demanding high-tech service.

Growth topped Trujillo's list of excuses for installation delays. He said the service region includes seven of the nation's 10 fastest-growing states.

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