RHODE ISLAND - Tax Attorney Suffers in Silence From Dead Phones

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Title: Providence, R.I., Tax Attorney Suffers in Silence from Dead Phones

Story Filed: Wednesday, April 05, 2000 4:02 AM EST

Providence Journal/KRTBN)--David Coon's telephone nightmare is finally over.

The tax lawyer was without phone service at his Providence office for six days, until it was restored yesterday afternoon.

His trouble began last Thursday when he discovered that all four phone lines coming into his downtown practice were dead. With tax season drawing to a close, it was one of the worst possible times to have phone trouble.

"I've never felt so powerless," Coon said, speaking from a cellular phone he borrowed from his secretary, before the phone was fixed. "I have no idea what business I'm losing. New clients call me right now and they think I'm gone."

Coon's story speaks to the perils of the new world of telephone competition, where phone companies vie for a share of the huge telecommunications market. Coon found that switching to a new phone company can be painful -- and costly.

Jim Lanni, engineering associate administrator for the state Division of Public Utilities and Carriers, said problems such as these are inevitable with so many new players in the telephone business.

There are more than 500 companies registered to provide some kind of phone business in Rhode Island, he said. About 30 are registered to provide local phone service.

Coon is still not exactly sure what went wrong. And it appears the phone companies involved aren't completely sure either.

He does know he switched from Bell Atlantic to Network Plus, a Quincy, Mass.-based firm that offers phone service in several New England states. The company had 66,000 local access lines as of Dec. 31.

Coon's office had been using Network Plus's long-distance service for some time, and had been happy with it. So when the company started offering local telephone service, his firm signed up last August in order to save "a few pennies" and for the convenience of receiving a single telephone bill.

Network Plus's local service worked fine until last week, Coon said. That's when Network Plus switched over several customers from Bell Atlantic's network to its own equipment, according to Lisa Korner, vice president of product development for Network Plus.

Korner said it appears that Bell Atlantic did not complete the order to physically connect the wires from Coon's Westminster Street office to Network Plus's equipment at a nearby Bell Atlantic office.

"They have to do something at the central office to switch the customer, and that didn't happen."

And Korner said it took Bell Atlantic four days (including two weekend days) to dispatch a crew to fix the problem.

Tracey Kennedy, a spokeswoman for Bell Atlantic, said the company needed to research the issue to find out exactly what went wrong.

"I am in no way admitting guilt," she said. "We need to understand what happened."

Korner said Coon was not the only customer affected, and that the company is working on getting service restored to the other customers. She didn't have an exact number that were affected, but estimated it was under 20.

She said Coon's outage was "exceptionally long from what we've experienced in the past and it's definitely not the norm."

That's probably of little comfort to Coon, who said he is angry that he had no indication from Network Plus that a problem like this could occur.

"We made substantial inquiries about the drawbacks," he said. "They claimed there were none. It happened all internally and technologically and there's no way anything could go wrong. I was given no warning this might happen."

The six-day outage left him scrambling to try to get his phones fixed, and to reach the clients who couldn't reach him.

Those who tried to call would hear only the phone ringing, with no indication there was a line problem. Coon said he asked Network Plus to put a message on his line saying the phone was not working. He said he was told they couldn't put such a message on a line that was dead.

He also asked them to provide a cellular phone so he could at least make outgoing calls until the problem was fixed. The company said they couldn't do that either, he said.

So he borrowed his secretary's wireless phone, and also made calls and sent e-mail from his Cranston home to contact clients.

Coon tried returning to Bell Atlantic -- unsuccessfully. Bell Atlantic told him it would take two weeks to make the switch back. And the company said Network Plus would have to get the line working before Bell Atlantic could switch him back.

Coon, who specializes in estate planning and tax work, said he is going to switch his phone service one more time -- back to Bell Atlantic.

He said he expects Network Plus to reimburse him for the cellular phone bills, and for the lost business. And he may charge his hourly rate for the time he spent working on the problem.

By Timothy C. Barmann

(c) 2000, Providence Journal, R.I. Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News.



-- (Dee360Degree@aol.com), April 05, 2000

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