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State invites public to comment on proposed CenturyLink-Qwest telephone merger
Jan. 3, 2011
Docket Number: UT-100820
MEDIA ADVISORYOLYMPIA, Wash. – CenturyLink and Qwest telephone customers will be able to comment to state regulators in Olympia Wednesday on the proposed merger of both companies.
The Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission (UTC) has scheduled the public meeting at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 5 in the second-floor hearing room at the UTC’s Richard Hemstad Building headquarters, 1300 S. Evergreen Park Dr. S.W., Olympia.
Last week UTC staff members, the companies and the Public Counsel unit of the Attorney General’s Office reached a multi-party agreement recommending approval of CenturyLink’s proposed acquisition of Qwest’s telephone business subject to 29 conditions. Commission staff make independent recommendations that are not binding on the three-member UTC. The commission expects to make a final decision early this year.
The settlement includes a number of provisions to shield customers from being harmed by this transaction. These include:
· Capping local telephone residential rates for at least three years after the sale closes.
· Making broadband Internet service available to more customers.
· Preventing the new company from passing on merger costs to ratepayers.
· Reporting merger savings to the UTC.
· Submitting detailed plans to UTC staff before transitioning to any new operations systems that affect customer services like billing or filling new phone orders.
Another provision in the settlement agreement calls for implementing additional service quality protections such as increasing credits for missed repair or installation appointments or for failing to offer appropriate discounts or deposit waivers to low-income customers who qualify for phone service through the Washington Telephone Assistance Program.
Last April, CenturyLink and Qwest announced an agreement in which CenturyLink would acquire Qwest’s entire business, including 10.3 million landline phone lines as part of a $10.6 billion merger. Shareholders from each company approved the merger in August. The Department of Justice has approved the transaction, and the Federal Communications Commission is still reviewing it. Government regulatory approval is needed in 21 states. California, Colorado, Georgia, Hawaii, Iowa, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, Montana, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, West Virginia and the District of Columbia have already approved the business deal.
The commission has received 73 public comments to date – 6 in favor, 34 opposed and 33 undecided. Members of the public who are unable to attend the public hearing but wish to comment can direct their correspondence to: P.O. Box 47250 Olympia, Wash. 98504 or e-mail to email@example.com. The UTC’s deadline for accepting public comments is Jan. 7.
Headquartered in Monroe, La., CenturyLink was formed through the merger of CenturyTel and Embarq. CenturyLink is the fourth-largest local phone company in the United States and the third-largest in Washington, serving about 200,000 phone lines in such cities as Carnation, Cheney, Cowiche, Fall City, Fox Island, Friday Harbor, Gig Harbor, Goldendale, Lake Quinault, Montesano, North Bend, Randle, Packwood, Poulsbo, Ritzville, Snoqualmie Pass, Sprague, Twisp, Wapato, Winthrop and Zillah.
Denver-based Qwest is the largest local phone company in Washington, serving approximately 1.3 million telephone lines. The company provides phone service to many larger cities including: Seattle, Tacoma, Bellevue, Olympia, Bellingham, Aberdeen, Longview, Bremerton, Spokane, Moses Lake, Yakima, Pasco and Walla Walla. Qwest also provides traditional phone service in 14 mostly mid-Western and Western states.
If it achieves regulatory approval, the combined new company, CenturyLink, will create the nation’s third-largest landline telephone company in the country, serving about 17 million phone lines in 37 states.
The UTC is the state agency in charge of regulating the rates and services of telephone companies operating in Washington.
Editor’s note: A copy of the multi-party settlement agreement is available at: www.utc.wa.gov/100820.
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