March 28, 1998 in Nation/World

Us West Balks At Colville Grand Slam Long-Distance Provider Attempts To Switch Service Of 70 Percent Of Phone Lines In Colville

By The Spokesman-Review

Colville has been slammed.

US West Communications officials said Friday that a company they declined to identify attempted to switch the long-distance service of more than 70 percent of the telephone lines in the Stevens County community.

The unauthorized changes, or “slams,” affected 4,647 lines, said spokeswoman Dana Smith.

The number was so overwhelming the US West computer switch that automatically makes changes in long-distance service failed on March 11.

When company crews went to investigate, Smith said, they noticed the unusual volume of changes and something else that was suspicious - most of the numbers to be switched were in sequence.

Smith said US West asked the new service provider to prove customers had approved the changes.

When the company said it could not produce the authorizations, US West took the unprecedented step of refusing to complete the changeovers, which had been interrupted by the computer switch failure, Smith said.

Few customers were even aware they had been slammed, she said.

“We are charting new territory by refusing to process these changes in Colville,” Smith said, adding that US West has spent the last two weeks trying to determine what authorizations exist for those switches and others in Minneapolis.

There, 3,877 customers on an exchange that serves 54,000 lines were switched. The reseller claims to have the proper authorizations, according to a US West release.

Smith said US West normally does not reverse a slam until a customer complains. The company then requests proof from the new carrier that the customer wanted new long-distance service.

Legally, she said, US West and other local phone companies must accept the word of the long-distance carriers until they fail to produce documentation.

At the Comfort Inn in Colville, owner Perry Anderson said he noticed a problem with his service when he could not fax documents. The next day his US West bill arrived.

A $55 switching fee caught his eye.

And his AT&T; service had been replaced with Sprint lines resold by a company he said identified itself as Telcomm. An employee of the company told him the switching fee would be refunded and his AT&T; service restored, he said.

“We’ll see what happens with that,” Anderson said.

Spokesmen for Sprint and Telcomm were not available late Friday.

US West President Solomon Trujillo said slamming has become epidemic, with 400,000 company customers affected last year alone.

Slammers, he said, keep the revenues they collect until customers complain and their authorized service is restored.

Trujillo said those incentives must be eliminated.

A 1996 overhaul of the laws governing telecommunications in the United States includes provisions that would block the flow of money, but the measure has not yet been implemented.

Washington Utilities and Transportation Assistant Director Glenn Blackmon said the state adopted a rule last year that discourages slamming within Eastern or Western Washington.

But the regulations do not apply to telephone traffic that crosses the Cascade Mountains or state boundaries.

Blackmon praised US West for its response in Colville.

“I think they’ve gone out of their way to protect their customers,” he said.

US West customers can check their phone lines by calling (700) 555-4141, Smith said. If the automated system that responds gives a name for their long-distance carrier they did not authorize, she said, another call to (800) 922-1879 will reverse the slam.

Smith said US West will waive the $5 fee for switching customers back to their regular long-distance carrier.

“What happened was not right,” she said.

, DataTimes

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