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Saturday, March 15, 2003

Telecom Bill Erases Standards, Critics Say

By Rosalie Rayburn
Journal Staff Writer
    State regulators say a bill making its way through the Legislature would erase hard-won customer-service standards negotiated with Qwest and Valor Telecom.
    Under HB 634, sponsored by James G. Taylor, D-Albuquerque, Qwest and Valor would no longer have to report unfilled phone orders to the Public Regulation Commission in cases where the company has to get right-of-way permission.
    The bill would also give them leeway to decide whether to provide service in areas where costs are high and demand low.
    PRC chairwoman Lynda Lovejoy said it would sweep away gains made in tough negotiations.
    Under the deals approved with Valor in 2000 and Qwest in 2001, the PRC said it agreed to let Valor hold its rates steady and to let Qwest raise phone rates if the company filled hundreds of delayed phone orders. The deal gave the PRC authority to track progress and fine the companies if orders were not filled within 30 days.
    Qwest said it now wants to change the deal because reporting requirements are time-consuming and costly.
    "We still will have to resolve right-of-way issues, but this (bill) will eliminate this obstacle so we can better serve our customers," said Qwest spokesman Jeff Mirasola.
    This measure would allow Qwest and Valor to be "excused from good faith negotiations with tribal or pueblo governments," said Lovejoy in a statement.
    The bill would roll the clock back to the situation in the 1990s when U S West would not provide service in some rural areas, she said.
    Calvert Garcia, president of the Nageezi Chapter on the Navajo Reservation, said more than 200 people who ordered phone service under an agreement with Qwest in 2001 are still waiting for service.
    "It's really going to put the Indian population at a disadvantage," he said.
    The bill passed the House Business and Industry Committee and the Senate Corporations Committee and was headed to the Senate Judiciary Committee next.