Verizon tells PSC new glitch revealed unlisted numbers


June 06, 2008|By Lorraine Mirabella | Lorraine Mirabella,Sun reporter

Verizon Maryland Inc. said yesterday that a first-of-its-kind computer glitch caused 12,500 nonlisted and nonpublished phone numbers to be printed in a Washington County phone directory.

During a hearing before the Public Service Commission, Verizon said it is taking steps ranging from changing phone numbers to paying up to $1,000 for home security systems for some customers with the most serious safety concerns.

"We very much regret what has happened and want to make it as right as possible," said Leigh A. Hyer, vice president and general counsel for Verizon's Mid-Atlantic North Region.

The PSC, which regulates public utilities, requested Verizon to appear at the hearing after being notified Monday of the error. Commission Chairman Steven B. Larsen said at the end of the nearly two-hour hearing that commissioners would take the matter under advisement before deciding whether Verizon will face penalties, which a PSC spokeswoman said Monday could include a fine.

"We're very concerned about it and need to get more information," Larsen said.

At issue is whether Verizon violated any state or federal laws by inadvertently providing the nonpublished numbers to publisher Ogden Directory Inc. for use in the just-released 2008-2009 EZ to Use Big Book.

Hyer told commissioners that Verizon is required by federal communications law to provide computerized "excerpts" of its phone listings by region to directory publishers, and provides the information to about 50 publishers in the Mid-Atlantic. Verizon is compensated at a federally mandated 4 cents per listing.

But the company is not required by federal law to keep nonpublished or nonlisted numbers out. She said the company is instead governed by a contract between Verizon and its customers, who pay a fee that averages $25 a year to keep their numbers and addresses private.

"It is a service we sell ... it's not a guarantee, it's an additional protection," Hyer said.

Tom Moran, executive director for LiveSource, a Verizon division, said a similar computer glitch had not occurred before. About 12,000 phone numbers in a three-state area were mistakenly printed in directories in 2004 when Verizon changed its computer system, but Verizon was able to stop 95 percent of the directories from being distributed. Since the most recent error, which the company discovered May 30, new protections have been put in place, he said.

"If this error happens again, the system would fully shut down," and need to be manually checked before proceeding, Moran said.

The commissioners said they needed time to research whether Verizon had, in fact, violated any state laws.

And some questioned whether Verizon could do more than paying for home security systems for the customers facing potentially serious safety issues by having their numbers and addresses made public.

"There are other means out there [to offer protection] and I hope you are thinking about them and will notify us in writing ... for what other steps you'll be offering besides protection of property," Commissioner Lawrence Brenner said.

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