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Us West Seeks Higher Phone Rates Proposed 29 Percent Hike Would Generate $70.3 Million

Associated Press B Staff writer

State regulators plan public hearings in October on US West’s request for a 29 percent increase in monthly phone bills for more than 1.5 million Washington homes this fall.

The state’s largest telephone company on Friday asked for a $70.3 million rate increase that would be the utility’s first in a dozen years.

For the homeowner, the base rate of $10.50 a month would rise by $3 as soon as the Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission gives a go-ahead.

Business customers’ monthly charge would rise by $2, an increase of 8 percent over the $25 per line authorized by the commission last year. The company proposes holding off on the higher business rate until the state Supreme Court rules this fall or winter on a US West appeal to an earlier rate case.

A ruling in favor of the company could mean rate increases beyond those sought Friday.

US West spokeswoman Dana Smith said unresolved issues like treatment of the company’s directory business represent almost $300 million in additional revenues.

The three-member utilities commission already has approved a large chunk - $36 million - of the increase filed Friday, as a way of supporting some of the utility’s costs of modernizing and expanding phone service.

The commission’s staff is recommending the full amount after negotiating with the company. But the commission has made no decision on the total amount and neither the staff nor commission has approved a plan for how and when the rates will be raised, said Glenn Blackmon, director of telecommunications.

The panel will schedule five or six public hearings across the state in October before making its ruling, he said.

The commission could conceivably require the company to keep rates at the current level for all customers until the court makes its decision, Blackmon said.

, DataTimes The following fields overflowed: CREDIT = Associated Press Staff writer Bert Caldwell contributed to this story.

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