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State Seeks Input On Phone Plan Us West Wants To Sell Rural Phone Exchanges

Telephone customers in 12 Eastern Washington communities are being asked for their opinions on a US West plan to sell their exchanges to Pacific Telecom Inc.

The Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission will hold a public hearing at 6 p.m. next Monday at Ritzville Elementary School.

Almost 7,500 Eastern Washington customers would be affected in these exchanges: Almira, Coulee City, Edwall-Tyler, Harrington, Lind, Nespelem, Odessa, Ritzville-Benge, Royal City, Sprague, Starbuck and Wilbur.

About 12,000 more customers in 14 rural Western Washington exchanges also would be affected by the proposed $92.6 million sale to Vancouver, Wash.-based PTI.

The Utilities Commission staff has asked PTI to freeze rates in the affected exchanges for at least two years. Staffers also want the company to protect its existing customers from rate increases for five years, and to upgrade its equipment to prevent outages and other problems.

A spokesman said PTI’s rates are 17 to 58 percent higher than what US West charges in the exchanges to be sold. PTI “has been very vague” about how rates would be affected, the spokesman said.

The commission staff wants US West to share its $17.4 million profit from the sale with its customers. Currently, the company proposes to have only its shareholders benefit from the sale.

US West has sold or is trying to sell 11 exchanges in Idaho, 60 in Montana, 24 in Oregon, 10 in Arizona, 45 in Colorado and 27 in Wyoming.

US West is the largest telephone company in Washington, and PTI is the third-largest.


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