Commission hangs up on CenturyLink discussions
June 25, 2020
It’s been over a year since the county commissioners heard confirmation that the Public Service Commission (PSC) had deregulated CenturyLink in rural zones of Wyoming in return for a subsidy program for customers experiencing service issues. Local customers have seen few benefits, said Commissioner Jeanne Whalen last week, and the county has little interest in helping the PSC gauge how well things have gone since the agreement was made.
“It’s not worth our time anymore,” said Whalen, stating that the situation was supposed to improve for customers in rural areas, but it has done nothing of the sort.
The PSC determined last February 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.
Despite the county making the argument 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 were justified in their complaints and set out clear terms for a subsidy to answer that problem.
The agreement saw customers in affected areas, 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.
The decision brought to an end almost a decade of investigations that officially began on October 15, 2009. Whalen said last week that all the effort put forth to fix the connection issues being experienced in Crook County had done no good at all.
For instance, she said, the agreement was supposed to mean that CenturyLink provided more and better technicians, “which they haven’t”. Actually, she said, the technician for Aladdin customers is now even further away because the one in Belle Fourche retired.
She described being aware of recent issues with the service for customers in Crook County that she did not feel had been dealt with any better than they would have been dealt with before the agreement.
Witnesses who testified to the PSC during those years of investigations did an amazing job, Whalen said, but, “It meant nothing – we got nothing out of it.”
Responding to a query from Commissioner Fred Devish as to whether the county should respond to the PSC’s request for input, County Attorney Joe Baron suggested a summary to say that “nothing has changed”.
“I think that could be a pretty short note,” said Whalen wryly. The county has been testifying for years to the PSC, she said, and has received nothing in return.