Consumer advocate recommends penalties for poor US West service

— US West Inc. should give millions of dollars in credit to consumers for violating state mandates on repair and installation services, a consumer advocacy agency has recommended.

''We want the company to get this fixed and it requires strong commission action for them to fix it,'' said Ken Reif, director of the state Office of Consumer Counsel.

''The second thing is individual customers need some relief. They've got to be compensated for the fact they're not getting phone service.''

The agency's recommendation was filed Thursday as part of the Public Utilities Commission disciplinary proceeding against US West. It will be used as evidence in hearings starting Nov. 29.

The regulators claim Denver-based US West failed to meet standards for providing quick service and repairs last year and through April.

US West chief executive officer Sol Trujillo has acknowledged many of the service problems, and said this week the company has begun making improvements.

Much of the company's record $4 billion capital spending budget this year is aimed at improving service across its 14-state region, Trujillo said.

The state agency, which represents consumers and small business in utility cases, recommends that US West be ordered to:

Customers whose basic service has been delayed for more than seven months should get $100 credit for each month they are without a phone.

Provide bill credits for each missed installation or repair appointment of $15 for residential customers and $45 for business customers. This would be effective for future complaints.

Increase future credits for broken phones, beginning with bill credits in the first 24 hours a line is out of service. Residential customers would receive $5 per day; business customers would receive $15. On the eighth day the lines are out of service, the credits would increase to $100 per day for residents and $200 per day for businesses.

Provide basic service within seven days or give customers unlimited local cell phone use or a $100 bill credit and other services at no cost.

Agency officials based their recommendation in part on a survey sent to customers who testified at public hearings about service problems or wrote letters to state regulators.

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