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U.S. West Takes a Hit
If you still have a party line, as many of us do, you have probably talked to someone at what I often hear referred to as Useless West and its subsidiary, Mountain Hell, about your bill and encountered the person’s surprise when you told them you still have three other people trying to use one line. “Oh, you must live in Colorado,” she says. “Yes,” I say, sighing heavily, “I do.”
That is going to change, we are told. By this time next year we will all have single party lines. At long last. Meanwhile, as they lay fiber-optic cable along Highway 7 and bury wires along our county roads and drop lines to our homes, our telephones are more often dead than alive.
When telephone service became available in the 50s it altered our social fabric in a number of ways. We have fewer face-to-face visits and when we want to see each other we have to call beforehand. We can arrange meetings easily, which is one reason we have so many meetings, and we can change them just as quickly. We can call people to arrange for propane delivery. We can find out what’s on at the movies. We can find out if things are available in stores in Longmont and Boulder before we make that long trip. A huge number of tasks we had to do in person or by mail we now accomplish by telephone. With a single party line, a computer and a modem, we can earn a living. People in professions which require telephone availability, such as my wife, who is an R.N. at Longmont United Hospital, can now live and work here.
But one of the most important aspects of telephone service and the way it has changed our population isn’t very obvious until the line goes dead. The main reason we now have so many older people who live here is the telephone; it provides the access to medical and other emergency help that wasn’t available 40 years ago.
My mother is one of those people. At 86, she can still live in her own cabin in the summer, knowing that if anything goes wrong, she can call someone who will help. But when the phone dies, she’s at risk. One of our close neighbors is even older.
This year my mother had her phone connected, it worked for one day, died, was repaired ten days later, worked for two days and died again.
“Well,” you say, “she lives close to you, and you have a phone.” Nope. Mine was dead, too. In fact, a large number of people were without phones on June 9 and they were told it wouldn’t be repaired until June 17th at the earliest. My wife had to drive to Longmont just to be available on-call. I’m thinking about sending U.S. West a bill for that.
I heard several explanations. “A major cable failure in the area,” said the person I talked to at Home Repair Service, who probably doesn’t know a red wire from a green wire. “A card went down in Allenspark,” said someone else. That’s computer-speak. It means the little computer brain that sorts things out in Allenspark had a vascular accident. But unless you collar the repair person or know someone you can call at U.S West, it’s almost impossible to find out what went wrong. This time.
We live in a rural enclave and U.S. West doesn’t carry us very high on its list of priorities, in either equipment or maintenance. I know one person who has five splices in the aerial telephone line in the 300 yards between the main road and the house. Five.
The people U.S. West hired to bury the telephone drop line to my mother’s cabin sliced through her water line and her television cable even though they had been told exactly where the lines were. They marked the TV cable with paint and they still cut it. The repair to the water line lasted less than a week and had to be dug up and fixed again. They didn’t repair the surface when they were done, so I had to reset the flagstones. When they come to your place I can only suggest that you supervise their work very carefully.
I suppose what irritates me most is the answer I got when I called to report, again, that my phone was dead. “We’re very behind in our service calls.” Gee, I wonder why? Is it because the system is shot full of holes and doesn’t work? If the system were working, you wouldn’t have so many service calls, would you? Is nine days a reasonable period of time to wait to have emergency telephone capability restored? Other phone systems do as well when a hurricane goes through or there’s an earthquake. We’ve had nothing but warm, dry, and calm weather and we haven’t had an earthquake or any other natural disaster.
According to a U.S. West source, even though the cables and drop lines have now been laid, it will still be “eight to ten months” before the private lines are working. “There are a lot of lines,” the source said, “ and the company hasn’t assigned enough people to hook them all up quickly. That’s why it will take so long.” So the cables will be in place, just waiting for someone to hook them up. I suppose, when we’ve been waiting 32 years, that eight to ten months doesn’t seem like much. Still, is it reasonable?
I’m also irritated because it’s so difficult to talk to a real person about the problems. U.S. West makes sure you don’t know where they are, so you can’t go and dance on a desk. It’s even very difficult to write a letter; they hide their addresses; don’t bother looking in the phone book. I did manage to obtain, thanks to Martin Shockley, the address of one top management person. I sent him a letter and a copy to the PUC. It probably won’t do any good, but it made me feel better. Maybe you will feel better too if you write to: Mr. John Scully, CEO, U.S. West Colorado, 1005 17th Street, Denver, 80202. You might send a copy to Mr. Bruce Smith, the secretary of the PUC, at 1580 Logan St., Level 2, Denver, CO 80203.
One contact I have is in Ft. Collins, but she was out of town for several days, and I couldn’t call her from my phone, which was, as I said, inoperative. Only one pay phone at Meeker Park has been working, and that fitfully. When it’s working there’s usually someone using it. I finally reached her from my other home in Lafayette. It turns out the people laying the new cables did cut a major cable. Big surprise. Whether by coincidence or my whining, it was fixed within a few hours, on the 13th. We had a nice chat about the situation, and I said we expect some problems, but we don’t expect the problems to wind up at the bottom of a long list. And while I’m grateful for the help, why should I have to be a squeaking wheel in order to get greased?
U.S. West likes to advertise its super programs and services to small business, probably because that’s where the money is. There’s no money in three months of a summer account for an 86 year-old woman who lives alone or in the others of us scattered around our valley. Still, when telephone service arrived, it became possible for older people, and others who need telephones, to live here and they depend on that service. They have a right to expect the system to be maintained at a reasonable level. The current state of affairs hasn’t been reasonable.
The real problem is that yet another big business has apparently become too big to care for and about the individuals who are the only reasons it exists.
© 1985 – 2003, David E. Steiner
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