Regulators from Five States Blast Ameritech for Service Problems
Zawislak, Mick, Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL)
Ameritech was hit with a five-state barrage of criticism Friday by Midwest regulators angry over continuing and "unacceptable" local phone service problems.
The heads of regulatory commissions from Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Wisconsin and Ohio united in frustration in an unprecedented alliance and called for a regionwide public forum with Ameritech to solve service problems once and for all.
While no specific date was set, the regulators want that forum held within a month and also want "immediate and tangible" improvements in service within 90 days.
The regulators hinted that increasing fines or changing laws to more harshly deal with Ameritech was a possible course of future action.
Ameritech's service is "truly unacceptable and must be fixed immediately," said Illinois Commerce Commission Chairman Richard Mathias. Customer complaints of waiting weeks or months to have new service installed, for example, have increased throughout Ameritech's five-state Midwest region.
Mathias also said he thought it was "incomprehensible" the company would begin the regulatory process of getting into the long-distance market while it was having so many problems with local service.
"We do not benefit from having customers upset," said Ameritech spokesman Michael King, who attended the press conference. "Quite frankly, we hear it every day and have to earn that respect back."
Each state regulatory group is either investigating, has fined or is considering legislative action against Ameritech.
Mathias and other regulators also said Ameritech responses to the individual states have been incomplete and lacking in several areas, including a lack of minimum service quality standards. In addition they said there was no program to compensate customers who took a day off to handle service outages, who were forced to use cellular phones or who were otherwise inconvenienced prior to Ameritech's latest pledge to improve.
The company on Sept. 18 announced a six-month "all-out effort" to improve its service in the five-state region.
The firm said it plans to hire 562 technicians, bringing in help from other states and adding 3,300 more technicians next year as well as shifting 615 others from construction to installation and repair.
Another part of the service program is to give customers who were out of service for more than two days after reporting an outage, or those who waited more then seven days for installation, a credit equal to a month of charges, which in Illinois is $19.
"Six months is way too long," said William D. McCarty, chairman of the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission.
"This is nickel (and) diming it. Spend the money. Commit the resources. Do the right thing," McCarty said.
In a statement Thursday, James Shelley, Ameritech's president of external affairs, said the company was confident the plan, coupled with cooperation with regulators, would result in "the levels of service customers deserve."
Service level requirements were imposed as a condition of the merger last November of SBC Communications and Ameritech.
As a group, the regulators described Ameritech's plan as "wholly inadequate." They also charged the company with creating bottlenecks that have stifled competition in the local phone market, another situation that needed to be resolved. …