It won't be long before Steamboat residents will be able to make a telephone call to Craig without paying long-distance charges to U S West.
U S West is ready to make changes in the way it provides telecommunications services to Routt County. When finished with the improvements and upgrades, the company will offer a broader caller range to the Routt County calling area and will provide higher speed service on long-distance calls outside the county.
"What this means for Routt County is the existing digital radio facilities will be replaced with a fiber-optic backbone. There will be two calling pads out of the area and that means calls between Steamboat and Craig will become a local call," said Bonnie Pehl Petersen, public affairs director for U S West.
In addition to fines for poor service, a settlement agreement reached last year by U S West, the Colorado Public Utilities Commission and the Office of Consumer Counsel provided U S West with more pricing flexibility and integrated some additional investment commitments by the company.
U S West agreed to spend millions on its Colorado infrastructure to enhance the quality of basic telephone service and the company is concentrating those funds on rural service areas, Petersen said. Once the project is complete, 75 percent of the 122,600 lines served by radio facilities in rural Colorado will be augmented by fiber optic cable.
"Because of the increased competition in the business, U S West went to the PUC to get some of the restrictions on the company released," Petersen said. "This settlement gave us more flexibility in pricing and in exchange for that U S West agreed to spend $40 million to enhance basic service in the state. We expect significant benefits to the rural communities of Colorado."
Those significant benefits will come in the form of improved telephone service, but Petersen said Internet users will see no difference in their modem speeds.
"This is not going to improve modem speed. The reality of modem speed is that to improve upon it, it's going to require an additional purchase of a data service. The telephone line is not guaranteed for data," she said.
U S West is required by the PUC to provide basic telephone service. That service includes a single-party line, touch-tone capabilities, a phone book listing and access to long-distance carriers, Petersen said. The price for basic telephone service is $14.95 per month.
"Modem use is an additional benefit," she said. "Committed data speed will require the purchase of another product. We simply can't provide it for the rate we're currently charging for basic telephone service."
The upgrades will occur in phases with phase I starting this summer, and an overall project completion date of Dec. 31, 2001.
Approximately $24 million will be spent on the phase I project to build new facilities and install fiber optic cable which will ultimately reduce the company's reliance on radio facilities in rural and mountainous areas.
"The money to pay for this project is coming out of the U S West coffers," Petersen said. "There will be absolutely no rate increase to customers to pay for this."
The company plans to begin installing fiber optic technology in rural areas in Colorado starting this summer. Hayden, Steamboat and Kremmling are among the rural northwest Colorado communities that are slated for the improved technology.
"We don't have a specific time frame for Routt County but we would like to have it done in this construction season," Petersen said. "We still have lots to overcome but that's what we're shooting for."
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