Michigan: Ameritech problems also take local toll

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Michigan: Ameritech problems also take local toll

Tuesday, September 26, 2000

By Ron Fonger


Jennifer Matthews had to wait and wait when she called Ameritech to find out why callers to the Flushing nail salon where she works were being disconnected or given a recorded message.

She said she waited on hold for operators who could help, and for a repairman. After months of frustration, the problem was finally solved.

Matthews joined about 300 other Michigan residents who have filed complaints to the state Public Service Commission about long waits for service.

Now the state Senate is considering a bill that would provide penalties up to $1 million for a local phone service provider if its average response time to a service outage exceeded 36 hours in any given month.

"Just because you're the only company, you shouldn't be able to ignore us if (we) have a problem," said Matthews, whose livelihood depends on phone appointments.

"Once I finally got a repairman, he was great," she said. "But it was a problem (getting an appointment)."

On Monday, Ameritech was in trouble on another front. The PSC fined the company $1.5 million after a customer said its failure to deal quickly with identity theft ruined her credit record and kept her from getting a job. Ameritech spokesman Mike Barnhart called the fine excessive and said it would likely be appealed.

Ameritech provides local phone service to more than 5 million Michigan customers, and has been bombarded by complaints like Matthews' in Michigan and the four other Midwestern states it serves.

Another local complaint - filed by Mary A. Wierbicki of Grand Blanc - said she waited two weeks for Ameritech's repair crews to fix her phone line.

"What if an emergency occurred in an elderly person's home and they were without phone service for two, three or four weeks to call for help?" Wierbicki asked in an e-mail to state Sen. Mike Rogers, sponsor of the bill. Rogers' office set up "FixMyPhoneNow.com," a Web site to allow customers to voice their problems with Ameritech.

"I think they (Ameritech) took the money they should have been spending on service and spent it on other things," including new technology, Rogers said.

Prospects for passing the legislation that would give the PSC the ability to fine companies like Ameritech are good, Rogers said.

Barnhart said the company opposes the legislation.

"The customer-service problems Ameritech is having are a relatively recent phenomenon," he said. "High fines and hasty legislation won't do anything to improve customer service."

The company has introduced a new plan to improve overall service, saying it will enable the phone giant to drop its average repair time to 36 hours by Dec. 31, three months earlier than it had first projected. Its average repair time now is 115 hours.

Before Monday's $1.5-million fine, Ameritech was last fined by the commission in 1998, when it was ordered to pay $158,000 to the state after the commission upheld the city of Southfield's contention that there were too many errors in the 911 database Ameritech provided.

Ameritech recently paid a $705,500 fine to the state of Illinois for failing to meet conditions of its October 1999 merger with San Antonio-based SBC Communications Inc. Dozens of competitors in the state complained they could not get new lines and other services ordered from Ameritech.

Regulatory officials in Ohio also have proposed fining Ameritech if service doesn't improve, and officials in Indiana have said the company's plan for restoring speedy service isn't good enough.

Information from the Associated Press and Journal Lansing Bureau is included in this report. Ron Fonger covers Genesee County government and transportation. He can be reached at (810)766-6317 or rfonger@flintjournal.com.


-- Carl Jenkins (Somewherepress@aol.com), September 26, 2000


Attaboy, politicians. If they don't toe the line, fine the bastards. It works for lawyers where law suits are involved, so why not where voting constituencies are involved?

-- Buck (bigbuck@trailways.net), September 26, 2000.

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