Residents to keep numbers PSC rules against C&P

December 01, 1992|By Adam Sachs | Adam Sachs,Staff Writer

Leaders of a Kendall Ridge neighborhood group said they're not surprised that the state's Public Service Commission ruled in favor of customers who opposed the telephone company's proposal to reassign numbers in their east Columbia neighborhood.

Chesapeake and Potomac Telephone Co. of Maryland had presented a choice to 126 customers in Kendall Ridge who had been incorrectly assigned Columbia exchanges even though their homes are within C&P's Ellicott City exchange zone: change their phone numbers or pay a monthly tariff ranging as high as $70 for retaining a Columbia exchange.

When C&P informed affected customers of the proposal in January, telling them they would have a one-year grace period before being charged the monthly fee, 54 accepted new Ellicott City phone numbers.

But when the company filed for the tariff with the commission in February, a group of 42 residents protested to the public service agency.

"What the company did was outrageous to begin with," said Randy M. Allen, who represented about 42 customers on the Kendall Ridge Citizens Task Force. "It's certainly nice to send a message to a big company that they need to listen to and consider their small customers."

Switching to an Ellicott City phone exchange would have meant that calls to some Washington-area suburbs, which are toll-free from most Columbia exchanges, would have been assessed long-distance charges.

The Kendall Ridge residents told the Public Service Commission that C&P had assured them they could have a Columbia exchange when the Village of Long Reach neighborhood was developed in the late 1980s. They also told the commission they had incurred expenses by using their current phone numbers for business cards and computer systems.

Kendall Ridge customers wishing to keep Columbia exchanges after the waiver period would have paid between $17.25 and $72.15 monthly in additional service charges, under C&P's proposal.

But C&P's proposal "would still result in harm to those customers who have relied upon C&P's assignment of numbers when moving to the Kendall Ridge neighborhood, while the record indicates that the error was due solely to C&P," wrote PSC hearing examiner Joel M. Bright in a Nov. 17 order.

He said C&P did not demonstrate any engineering or technological reasons to support changing the numbers, and added it would be unfair and inequitable for the company to shift the burden of its mistake to the customers. The order means C&P could lose revenue -- "the price the company must accept" for its error, Mr. Bright wrote.

The order becomes final on Dec. 18 unless C&P or another party involved in the proceeding appeals to the commission.

A spokesman for C&P said the company is considering an appeal.

"Obviously, we're disappointed in the decision by the commission," said Donora Dingman, C&P manager of external affairs. "We felt we made a fair and equitable proposal to resolve it."

Kendall Ridge resident Debbie Carroll, who initiated the residents' challenge, called the order a big victory even if C&P should appeal and win. "Everybody said you're fighting a losing battle, fighting a big business," she said.

The company argued that failing to correct the numbers would be discriminatory because it would compel the company to treat some customers differently from others within one phone exchange area. C&P also contended that it would cause bookkeeping complications and would require special handling of the accounts.

"Our major concern is that we don't feel allowing the customer to keep a number for as long as they want is an equitable solution," said Ms. Dingman. "To live with a mistake for the life of a customer doesn't seem equitable."

Mr. Allen, an economic consultant and accountant who works for a Silver Spring firm involved in utility regulatory matters, said C&P showed "no interest or desire to work with us. They were looking out for their own interests."

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