Sundance Times - Continuing the Crook County News Since 1884

CenturyLink officially deregulated in rural zones

 

March 21, 2019



The County Commissioners have received official confirmation from the Public Service Commission that CenturyLink will be deregulated in rural zones of Wyoming. It was not unexpected, says County Attorney Joe Baron, although it was not the result the county had been looking for.

However, Crook County’s rural customers will have the opportunity to find some relief from their ongoing service issues in the form of a subsidy for an alternative phone service.

The PSC determined in findings issued on February 28 that CenturyLink’s services in rural areas “are subject to effective competition and are, therefore, exempt from regulation by the commission”. All parties that intervened, including independent phone companies and AARP, entered into stipulation agreements – except Crook County.

The agreement will see customers in affected areas, including Lusk and Wheatland, become eligible for a 24-month subsidy to receive a satellite dish and modem from HughesNet through which they will receive internet telephone service, if they have quality issues that cannot be fixed by CenturyLink within 14 days. Crook County refused to agree to the proposed settlement, said Commissioner Jeanne Whalen, on the basis that it did not benefit county residents.

The decision brings to an end almost a decade of investigations that officially began on October 15, 2009. The PSC opened investigations into service areas where old, inadequate or obsolete equipment was still in service.

In March, 2014, the PSC found that CenturyLink was not providing reasonably adequate service to all customers in the Lusk exchange and directed the company to take reasonable action to solve this issue. In January, 2015, a similar investigation was opened for Wheatland and, in August, 2016, an investigation in Crook County followed suit.

Having found that the quality and reliability issues were similar in all three places and the obstacles to resolving them were along the same lines, the PSC consolidated the three investigations in February, 2017. Four months later, CenturyLink filed an application for the PSC to determine that its services in rural parts of Wyoming are subject to effective competition and should no longer be regulated.

Though Crook County argued that there is no real alternative to CenturyLink in places such as Beulah and Aladdin, the PSC ultimately found that effective competition exists. However, the PSC also found that the customers claiming inadequate service are justified in their complaints and set out clear terms for the HughesNet subsidy in order to answer that problem.

While the HughesNet subsidy was created to apply specifically to Wheatland and Lusk, the PSC’s findings have since been updated to clarify that it will be available to any CenturyLink customer in rural zones two and three. Despite the county not entering into the agreement, this determination includes zones in Crook County. Customers will be able to complain to the PSC about their landline service and those complaints will be forwarded to CenturyLink.

CenturyLink has agreed that, if it is unable to resolve a quality complaint such as outages, noise on the line or static within 14 calendar days after a written complaint is submitted, it shall provide the option for the subsidy.

CenturyLink will continue to maintain its telephone service throughout Wyoming unless the customer discontinues, and will continue to provide credits for service disruptions as it has in the past. However, it will not be obligated to provide credits to a customer who chooses to continue its voice service while also subscribing to the HughesNet subsidized service.

CenturyLink will also be required to file quarterly status reports on its implementation of the HughesNet service alternative and, on or before October, 2020, a hearing will take place where the PSC will take public comment to determine whether the company has been compliant.

 
 

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