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Outages Plague Service

By Andrew Backover DENVER POST

Business Writer

May 26 - The Rev. Steve Aikman was one of AT&T's first local telephone customers in Colorado. But he's already had enough.

Next week, the Aurora resident is switching back to US West.

The reason: Since getting AT&T service March 30, he's had 16 phone outages - ranging from one hour to 2 1/2days.

"It is a comedy of errors," he said, speaking on a cellular phone that AT&T loaned him on Thursday because his landline was again on the fritz. "This is obscene."

As frustrated as Aikman's story sounds, what he and others in the area are experiencing is the beginning of local phone competition. AT&T is desperately trying to go from being a long-distance company to a local phone company, cable-TV operator and high-speed Internet access provider. It has set its sights on US West's local phone customers.

Through its purchase of Colorado cable firm TeleCommunications Inc. and its pending acquisition of Arapahoe County-based cable giant MediaOne Group, AT&T will use cable-TV networks to wedge its way into local markets.

Last week, New Yorkbased AT&T said it had 60,000 local phone customers, including nearly 20,000 in Colorado. It has about 11,000 in Aurora. The strategy is still in trial mode.

"The issue of people having the opportunity to choose another company is entirely new," said Matt Fleury, a spokesman for AT&T Broadband. "One of the important aspects to our learning is making that happen as smoothly as possible. We have great incentive to do that as the new company."

Denver-based US West - often criticized and penalized for order delays and service problems - has spent $1.5 billion regionwide since 1996 to open its 14-state territory to competitors.

But, as AT&T is finding out, being the local phone company is not easy. Consumer inquiries about AT&T's local service have been picking up at the Colorado Public Utilities Commission.

Through Wednesday, more than 20 consumers had contacted the PUC in May. By comparison, the PUC receives about 400 "contacts" per month from customers of US West, which as of February had 2.59 million phone lines in Colorado. Most of the AT&T complaints were about delays in switching their phone service from US West to AT&T.

"AT&T is in a trial situation, so they are working out the operational details of providing phone service," said Dian Callaghan, administrative director of Colorado's Office of Consumer Counsel. The office advocates for consumers of regulated utilities.

"We're going to be meeting with them next month."

If customers switch phone companies and want to keep their old phone number, they could experience a delay while the companies coordinate the switch.

"At this point, I think there's probably some responsibility on both sides," said Terry Bote, a spokesman for the PUC. Alma Jean Spykstra of Wheat Ridge fell for an AT&T sales pitch on the phone, but then changed her mind because she had too many unanswered questions.

After getting what she called the runaround from customer service representatives, she came home on a Wednesday to find that her phone was turned off.

She used a cell phone to get by until Monday, when AT&T came out for the installation. By then she was working with US West to get her old phone service back, but she was without a phone for a week.

"I had to have my voice recorded saying I did not want AT&T any longer. I wanted US West," Spykstra said.

Industry standards allow the incumbent phone company four business days to transport the old phone number to the competitor, said US West spokeswoman Anna Osborn. US West said it meets these standards 96 percent of the time.

"We cannot process that order until we receive their local service request," Osborn said. "If they give a customer a due date before that, they know the number is not going to be available."


-- (, May 26, 2000

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