In Acona, lives can hang on dial tone : LUSENET : Grassroots Information Coordination Center (GICC) : One Thread

Wednesday, March 1, 2000

Note: Residents having been dealing with the problem for 2 months. Who know?

In Acona, lives can hang on dial tone By BRUCE ROSS/The New Mexican

For Janis Chastain Takami, a dial tone isn't just a convenience, it's a matter of life and death.

"My husband needed surgery and we couldn't get through to the doctors to schedule it," Chastain Takami said, "and he ended up going to the emergency room because the infection went to his lymph nodes."

Chastain Takami's husband, Bruce Takami, suffered a double brain aneurysm in 1997. Complications from surgery left him partially paralyzed and suffering from seizures.

Although the couple are separated, Chastain Takami said, she was her husband's main caretaker - until the Jacona resident grew too frightened about recurring telephone outages in her neighborhood to bring him home.

"I can't take the chance that he goes into a seizure and I can't call anyone," she said.

Residents of the Jacona area, west of Pojoaque, say they have been dealing with chronic outages for about two months. Connections die in mid-conversation. Phones have no dial tones for hours at a stretch.

Jacona resident John Riley said Tuesday that the phones tend to die "usually every other evening" around 6 p.m., but "yesterday it was out by 10 in the morning."

Riley also has health troubles - a spinal problem that he says sometimes keeps him from being able to walk - and says he's not sure he can stay in his house without a phone he can trust.

While storms and washouts can often cut phone service in rural areas, Riley and Chastain Takami both said they had seen few problems until recently.

"It's really been a pretty good phone service until the last two months," Riley said.

Riley added that he and his neighbors have made so many service calls to U S West that "we're intimate friends" with the phone company's technicians.

"They would come out during the day, and they'd say the phone was working now so there's nothing to do about it," Riley said. "I'd say, 'I have guest rooms out here. You can stay for a month and see.' "

And the fruitless calls for help - when Jacona residents can call at all - are likely to continue.

U S West spokeswoman Valerie Santillanes acknowledged the problem, saying that growth north of Santa Fe has outstripped phone lines' capacity.

"What we have out in that area is an exhausted network," Santillanes said. "So what happens is when we get too many calls going through, it hangs up on people."

Santillanes said the New Mexico branch of the company, which serves 14 states, has asked for funding to bolster the lines. When or if that money will arrive isn't clear.

"It all comes down to a question of money and the costs associated with a job like that," Santillanes said.

U S West has complained that state regulations prevent the company from making enough money in New Mexico to justify its investments. State officials, meanwhile, have berated the company for providing poor service.

In October, the Public Regulation Commission voted to start an inquiry into what it called an increasing number of complaints and service delays and decreasing investment. In December, Attorney General Patricia Madrid attacked the company for being to slow to provide high-speed Internet service in New Mexico. U S West has promised to roll out that service in major cities by this summer.

Several proposals to change regulations are in the work. A bill meant to increase local phone competition - and to allow U S West to reap higher profits - passed the Legislature this session and is on Gov. Gary Johnson's desk.

And U S West filed an alternative-regulation proposal with the Public Regulation Commission in January. That plan also would free the phone company to make higher profits - now controlled by a state formula - but includes provisions for minimum quality standards, said Gary Roybal, a deputy director at the PRC. No hearings have been set for the plan, Roybal added.

While the wheels of business and government slowly turn, Riley just wants a reliable phone.

"It's frustrating," he said. "It's kind of hard to be out here alone in a house and not have access to the outside world."

Article received on Wednesday, March 01 2000

-- Martin Thompson (, March 01, 2000

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