Ameritech could face fines in Ohio (blizzards in July) : LUSENET : TimeBomb 2000 (Y2000) : One Thread,1575,ART-41781,00.html

Ameritech could face stiff fines in Ohio

By Jon Van Tribune Staff Writer February 09, 2000

Ameritech Corp. faces fines that could total $200 million for failing to meet basic local phone service standards set by state regulators in Ohio.

The staff of the Public Utility Commission of Ohio alleges more than 400,000 Ameritech violations of state service standards from August 1998 to July 1999. Commissioners will decide within six to eight weeks how much they might fine Ameritech, if anything.

The violations are based upon the Ohio staff's examination of Ameritech records. Allegations include failure to restore service in a timely fashion, failure to arrive for service appointments and failure to provide rebates owed to customers.

Ohio staff regulators found discrepancies that raise questions about the accuracy of Ameritech's records, said Beth Gianforcaro, a PUCO spokeswoman.

"There were some service outages the company blamed on blizzards," she said. "But the outages occurred in July."

She said there were also concerns whether Ameritech marketers were misleading consumers.

Ameritech disputes the Ohio allegations, said Dave Pacholczyk, a Chicago-based Ameritech spokesman.

"They have misunderstood or misinterpreted documentation we gave them that shows we are meeting the spirit and the letter of Ohio's quality standards," Pacholczyk said.

Ameritech's Ohio difficulties echo concerns expressed last year by the staff of the Illinois Commerce Commission, which noted that for four years Ameritech failed to meet ICC standards for restoring service within 24 hours of an outage.

As part of its approval of SBC Communications Inc.'s takeover of Ameritech, the ICC voted to drastically increase fines Ameritech could face should it fail to meet Illinois service standards. At an ICC meeting in December, the commissioners were told by the ICC staff that Ameritech was finally meeting state service standards.

Commissioner Terry Harvill questioned whether Ameritech was really meeting standards, or whether the company was just doctoring documents to make it appear the standards are being met. Harvill said that informal conversations with Ameritech employees suggested that company records were being altered.

Last month the Citizens Utility Board filed a new complaint with the ICC alleging that Ameritech customer service representatives misled customers to sell CallPack and SimpliFive calling plans that raise monthly bills.

Pacholczyk called CUB's allegation "ludicrous and outrageous," saying the consumer group was "comparing apples and oranges."

Besides defending itself in proceedings before regulators, Ameritech has taken legislative initiatives in both Illinois and Ohio, backing legislation that would reduce the power of state regulators.

The Illinois legislation would stop the ICC from "micromanaging our industry," said Pacholczyk.

Ameritech's chief competitor, AT&T Corp., is supporting its own legislation in Illinois that would beef up ICC powers. The AT&T proposal would write into law the various concessions SBC made last year to win approval of its Ameritech takeover.

AT&T's proposed legislation also would mandate that Illinois residential customers get a choice of local phone carriers within two years, said John Dunn, AT&T's regional legislative attorney.

"We think the ICC should become a competition cop," Dunn said. "Our bill would expand the commission's role in overseeing squabbles between phone companies that can end up hurting the customer."

The executive director of CUB, Martin Cohen, said that the consumer group opposes Ameritech's bid for further deregulation.

"Customers need to have the protection of either a competitive market or regulations," said Cohen. "Ameritech's legislation would leave us with neither. It would mean further increases in local phone rates just as we've seen in the deregulation we already have, with local toll rates that Ameritech raised 25 percent in December."

-- Homer Beanfang (, February 10, 2000


Ameritech has been outstanding on Kaua'i...they were first to restore service after hurricane Iniki...

-- Mad Monk (, February 10, 2000.

Had some interesting conversations in the last year or two with Ameritech maintenance grunts.

Ameritech has been doing what I'd bet most other Baby Bells also were, which was to force out or into retirement the more experienced (and more expensive) line crewmembers. About all that's left now are very, very junior. Even most of the line foremen are very junior.

Most of the supervisors above the foreman level are totally unexperienced with even seeing the cable plant, let alone with maintaining it. All those super.s know is to keep the calls cleared percentage up at any cost.

Finally, the maintenance crew counts are waaay down. To the point that an area-wide disaster (e.g., a tornado outbreak) could see weeks and weeks of outages. Same thing the various electric utilities have been doing, btw.

Hey, perhaps my communications with Ohio's PUCO might have actually helped!

-- Redeye in Ohio (, February 10, 2000.

Perhaps you DID help Redeye! good job.

-- mutter (, February 10, 2000.

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