December 27, 1995 in Nation/World

Moscow-Pullman May Be A Toll Call Gte Considers Imposing New Charges Or Flat Fee

By The Spokesman-Review

FOR THE RECORD: Thursday, December 28, 1995 Idaho Edition CLARIFICATION: GTE is proposing charging Moscow, Idaho, telephone customers a higher monthly rate to continue reaching Pullman as a local call. Or customers will be able to pay a lower monthly rate plus a per-minute charge for calls to Pullman. The per-minute charge would be based on extended-area service rates, which are lower-priced than long-distance rates. Currently, Pullman is a local call as part of regular telephone service. GTE maintains that is not eliminating toll-free calling between Moscow and Pullman, as implied in a story in Wednesday’s Spokesman-Review

Moscow, Idaho, residents soon may have to pay either long-distance charges to call Pullman or a higher monthly phone rate, ending nine years of toll-free calling between the two neighboring communities.

That GTE proposal is drawing strong condemnation from a former Idaho public utilities commissioner who was involved in the agreement to link the two communities with local calling.

“Between getting rid of all of their personnel in Moscow and this, they are treating any non-metropolitan areas as Brazilian rain forests,” said Perry Swisher, who was a member of the Idaho Public Utilities Commission from 1979 to 1991.

It took years of wrangling to make a call between Moscow and Pullman local, a service that started about 1986. “It was a decision made so it would be one community for economic purposes,” Swisher said. “For those two university towns to be able to talk back and forth is terribly important.”

Swisher isn’t the only one objecting. The Idaho Public Utilities Commission said it is hearing from a number of people upset about the plan.

Under the GTE proposal, residential customers who want to continue calling Pullman without paying long-distance fees will pay an additional $1.60 a month. GTE says that for the additional $1.60, people get to make local calls to five other exchanges, including Potlatch and Genesee.

“For customers making a lot of calls to those communities, that would seem to be a pretty good plan,” said Bob Wayt, a GTE spokesman.

Big deal, Swisher said. The Moscow-to-Pullman connection is so important that it should remain a totally separate deal.

Meanwhile, what’s proposed is “a dumb way to treat people,” Swisher said.

University of Idaho, in Moscow, and Washington State University, in Pullman, both are land grant universities and are located a mere eight miles apart. They share several classes and some entire academic programs.

Both were closed for the Christmas holiday so officials were not available for comment about the effect of the proposed change.

Moscow, Plummer, Kellogg, Priest Lake, St. Maries, Wallace, Priest Lake and Bonners Ferry are among the communities where GTE is proposing that customers have new options for phone rates and services.

It offers people the option of expanding the geographic area they can call without paying long-distance charges. In return, they frequently pay a higher monthly fee.

Some North Idaho communities, such as Coeur d’Alene and Sandpoint, already have the expanded calling service but would pay a higher monthly rate under some parts of the GTE plan.

GTE is proposing the change, effective in May, because so many customers want to expand the area they call without paying long-distance charges, said spokesman Wayt. “We feel we are meeting a significant need for callers.

“In some cases, it is an opportunity for customers to save money as opposed to their current phone bill,” he said. And “this is just a proposal … the final rates have yet to be set.”

People have until Jan. 14 to let the Public Utilities Commission know how they feel about the proposal. That ranges from writing a letter of comment to petitioning for a public hearing, said Gary Richardson, a commission spokesman.

Outside of the Moscow-Pullman area, many telephone customers want the changes.

“There are winners and there are losers, but where to pinpoint those is very difficult,” Richardson said. Customers who study their calling patterns carefully probably will come out ahead, he said.

, DataTimes

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