Should Montana Be Run Like a Developing Country? Our PSC Decides

Montana Public Service Commissioners (from top right) Roger Koopman, Kirk Bushman, Bob Lake, Brad Johnson, and Travis Kavulla

Let’s say your land-line only telephone service was “intermittent” and subject to frequent, repeated outages. It’s pretty hard to do much business because customers never know if their calls will even go through—not to mention having to worry about whether or not it might actually be impossible to call 911 if you needed to.

 

Nope, this is not a report of conditions at the Sochi Olympics or a Somali vacation guide, this is apparently how a surprisingly-large chunk of Montanans live today.

 

You see, there’s a massive multi-national company called CenturyLink with a massive share of Montana customers–especially in rural Montana. (They had 270,000 lines after CenturyLink and Qwest merged a few years back—I don’t know how many now.) It is, for many people, a de-facto monopoly – there are no other options. It’s the third-largest wireline telecom company in the U.S. Sure many areas have cell phone service, but not all, for example along the Missouri River canyon and in Essex, MT.

 

Montana’s Public Service Commission has this issue on the agenda tomorrow (Tuesday), and the PSC will vote tomorrow whether or not to enforce the the laws against charging people a lot of money for phone service they aren’t getting.

 

Our laws gave the PSC the authority to have a court impose a fine CenturyLink for each out-of-service call that they don’t repair during the required timeframe. Here’s why:  If the rules aren’t enforced, this company has no motivation to do anything other than continue to raise our rates while their equipment rots and our phones blink out.

 

To be sure, a vote against holding this company accountable is likely to become a major campaign issue – and many of these guys are going to have formidable opponents —look who’s running against Koopman, for example. Also Brad Johnson is running for Governor.

 

So we will see what our PSC will do Tuesday—whether going to address this sad pattern of customer abuse or whether they’ll simply make excuses for continuing to do nothing. They’ve been studying this issue for years, so at this point they really can’t justify refusing to do something under the guise of delay.   CenturyLink has the opportunity to address the issue through federal grants that are available to fix phone service in rural areas, which they should definitely do.

 

This is the PSC’s second agenda item for 7-21-15:

D2014.11.91 – CenturyLink QC – CenturyLink Service Quality – Discuss and decide whether the Commission should initiate an action in District Court to levy fines on CenturyLink QC for violation of PSC rule ARM 38.5.3371(7)(b) – 90% of Out of Service Trouble Reports shall be cleared within 24 hours. (7/21/15)

 

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26 Comments on "Should Montana Be Run Like a Developing Country? Our PSC Decides"

  1. This has made internet service very unpredictable for my family. My son had to use his iphone as a hotspot to take his online college tests so we paid $30 extra on cell phone bill. Streaming is very not-streamy. I was wondering today how it would feel to rely on this crap service for a 911 call.

  2. I am a PSC customer and live out of Missoula . Our service has always been slow and not dependable. Several months ago the headline in the Missoulian was “PSC investigates reports of poor quality” and they stated they had “launched” an investigation into the THIRD largest telecomunications company in the nation Century Link. Also Phone & address was given for customers to respond which I sent bills I had disputed, with increase and other issues. I am a senior on a limited income and had contacted Century Link on the service and cost increases . I was insulted and mad when they sent me papers to fill out to contact the Governmet [TAX paying citizens] to help me pay my phone bill.This is the THIRD largest company remember ? I was disputing their service and fees NOT looking for a handout to burden the already overburdened tax payers with. I worked for over sixty years and was a tax payer. I am sure this company has had a LOT of Government perks we citizens have never had. And now to see where PSC employees could be ” questionable” is unsettling.

    • Gave up on them and switched to charter…. the difference was so remarkable. from 7 mega bites per second downloads for Centurylink, to 40-50 mega bites a second to charter. My gaming, movies and music no longer lags. With Centurylink I was calling one a month on the bills because they kept charging for shit I didn’t order as well.

      Absolutely the worse service I have ever encountered.

      I would never give them a dimes worth of customership again.

      • The billing hijinks was why I left CenturyLink. Two or three monthly phone calls to be charged the correct amount was making me insane. Unfortunately, Charter has better billing practices and not much else. The speeds are okay when you can get them, but they slow down to a crawl quite frequently. For some reason, Amazon Prime has about 12 pixels on Charter, while Netflix looks a little better. I have to reset my modem nearly every morning to get rid of huge packet loss that arises for some unknown reason during periods of disuse at night. I wish I could get Treasure State Internet at my place, but their expansions plans don’t seem to be panning out as they initially indicated.

      • Rattus Norvegicus | July 25, 2015 7:57 PM at 7:57 PM |

        I live in Bozeman and I am within 1/2 mile of a central office (CO). I had CenturyLink DSL for many, many years (it cost me almost $70/mo) and while the service was reliable, it was slow. How slow? Although I paid for 12Mbs I would typically get 5Mbs or less and had lots of trouble streaming video if anything else was going on in the house. On the plus side, it was reasonably reliable, only going down once every few months.

        I recently switched to Charter and it is an order of magnitude faster, tests routinely show 60Mbs+ and I stream video all the time now since it works. Unfortunately there is a big tradeoff here. What was once semi-reliable has become completely unreliable — the service goes down a couple of times a month requiring that I reboot the modem and my router. In fact, I had to do it just before I wrote this comment!

        I was an early adopter of high speed internet service when I lived in Santa Cruz, CA. At first it was insanely expensive and my company paid for it, but one thing it always was was reliable (it also seemed very fast when the alternative was a 56K modem!). I have to say that the internet service in Bozeman is the worst I have ever experienced, whether from CenturyLink which couldn’t deliver the speed they were charging me for or from Charter which can’t keep their network functioning reliably.

        Of course Roger Koopman thinks this is all hunky dory and thinks that internet service should be even more loosely regulated than it is.

  3. Lastly if Kavulla, and LAke vote for Century link…. somebody better start checking their bank accounts because they are definitely corrupt

  4. Apparently we Peons are not allowed to watch this meeting. I have been tied into the Public services Commission on the internet since the meeting was supposed to take place and start. Nada, zip, NO transparency on the web…….Whatever happened to transparency in Montana.

    • Well well that meeting might not be seen at all publicly as Century was granted a protective order. a week or so in advance

      Can a protective order really be used to keep their bad dealings from being seen by the public. why yes it can. In Fact just about anything in the last two months from Century Link Has a protective order attached to its behind.

      I would think that the public needs to become aware of companies asking for protection orders at the PSC. Isn’t the public considered a relevant party in these proceedings? why weren’t they given public notice????

  5. The “Public Service Commission,” as it exists in Montana today is a misnomer. It’s the “How we can help you big corporation to screw over our citizens’ commission.

  6. Was there a time when it wasn’t like this? I’m thinking of power rates specifically. Energy deregulation was a mistake, agreed? Where is the champion in either party to re-regulate the energy cartel? What’s preventing the Governor and Legislature from advocating strongly and persistently that Montana consumers be first in line to benefit from most favorable per-unit cost domestic generation (hydro) and dedicated, reliable least-cost supply? Last I checked, roughly 60% of in-state generation is exported. The health and welfare of Montanans is clearly not the priority. The Public Service Commission’s attitude seems similar to the rest of Montana’s public agencies and institutions when it comes to regulating the Public Trust. Money talks.

    • Well, Obviously, the PSC is up to no good. They accepted a protective order from century link that wasn’t even signed by a judge, but some inter-agency official to keep that meeting Cowgirl posted here, secret And everybody on both sides signed off on it.

      So no Meeting was broadcast by the PSC on the internet today because of it. The legislature needs to grab the PSC by the ankles and not let go until they start following Transparency laws. People like me were interested in watching this meeting today. And we shouldn’t have to drive all the way to Helena to see it.

    • The enforcement of transparency law, ankle grabbing if you will, is up the Attorney General’s office, AG Fox. I leave it to the reader to predict whether that enforcement will actually happen. I also suggest that Art Wittich can rest easy in his refusal remove the PSC from the light, given that he knows who will have to enforce a transgression, and he’s already made his prediction of how Fox will act … or not.

  7. WOw well said!

  8. I think we need to care less about offensive behavior on this site and more about encouraging diversity of opinion and expression. I have a pretty thick skin and can tolerate, or shake off, almost any kind of rudeness. I don’t need to be protected by a moderator.

    By the way, I miss Larry here. Insult comedy is an art which deserves more respect.

  9. what should we expect from the PSC after we as voters were stupid enough to elect all republicans to the PSC , most of whom were term limited or voted out of the republican controlled legislature. Have we all forgot that it was a republican governor and legislature that forced this state to deregulate our utilities and cause the rates to go from among the lowest in the nation to the highest in the nation; not to mention their actions led to the sell off of our dams and and then rate payers having to buy back the dams. You want to address the actions of the PSC, stop voting for republicans who continue to not properly represent the rate payers and vote those in office now out of office in next election.

  10. http://www.bozemandailychronicle.com/opinions/guest_columnists/state-psc-should-fight-for-internet-freedom/article_9350a1d1-8e4f-5433-a34b-bbb49050a8d0.html
    This opinion piece from one of the commissioners (Koopman) reads like it was written by the PR department of Time Warner Cable. I really don’t like that we have someone so clueless about the state of the internet making rulings on it.

    • Rattus Norvegicus | July 25, 2015 8:06 PM at 8:06 PM |

      Yep, I slagged him in the comments on that. Unfortunately the Chron recently changed from Disqus, which fostered a fairly, shall we say freewheeling, comment section to Facebook, which has killed any discussion at all. All in the name of “civility”.

  11. Every month I am charged about 50 cents a month for a sales tax for Minnesota. Check the charges on the back side of your bills. CenturyLink in the Flathead. CL sucks. Sounds like grounds for a class action lawsuit.

    • But that suit only addresses those who are out of service for >24 hours. Many people experience short outages up to 24 or so times a day. We need a fix for that, too.

    • Glad they did the right thing. We know they read this blog since they have commented here in the past. Internet in MOntana needs to be faster and cheaper as well.

      The PSC needs to ask these internet corporations to serve Montanans better, and they need to let other internet companies in for competition. Competition always brings about better service, and lower prices. Dillon Montana has T7 high speed internet layed down here. from a company in New York, but regular folks are not allowed to used it.

      Centennial valley, JAckson, has it as well but Blue collar workers don’t get to use it either.

      Lets even the playing field folks.

  12. In a recent Op Ed piece in the Bozeman Daily Chronicle, Mr. Koopman proposed that the Montana PSC rally to protect Montana from network neutrality. My response, in a letter to the editor, follows.

    I am pleased to see that Mr. Koopman, in his recent op-ed column in the Chronicle, is calling for the Public Service Commission (PSC) to focus its attention on the internet. However, Mr. Koopman has picked the wrong issue. Montana’s real problem is internet access, not net neutrality.
    By every measure, Montana is far behind the rest of the United States in internet service. The most recent data reported by the Federal Communications Commission in the International Broadband Comparison Report show that the cost of download speed, measured in $ per megabit per second, in Montana is higher than in almost any other state in the country. Only citizens of the District of Columbia and Alaska pay more than we do in Montana. Average download speeds in Montana are far below almost every other state as well. We are ranked 47 out of 50. According to the most recent report by the Office of Science and Technology Policy and the National Economic Council in 2013, Montana is among the five states with the least broadband access: only 75% of Montanans have access speeds of 10 Mb/s or greater, and fewer than 13% of Montanans have access speeds of 25 Mb/s or greater. Montanans in rural areas are particularly under-served, with less than 20% of the population having high speed internet access.
    I urge Mr. Koopman and his colleagues at the Montana PSC to set ideology and politics aside and to turn their attention to this pressing problem. A deep, hard look at internet access in Montana is long overdue and may not only reveal why Montana is so far behind, but may also suggest ways to provide affordable high-speed access so acutely needed across our state. Why should we pay more and receive less?

    Richard S. Wolff
    Bozeman MT

    • You cannot have good access without net neutrality as well. Both of those things go hand in hand so do not dismiss neutrality so casually please!

      Neutrality will ensure that slow speeds do not catch up with you later on – just sayin’.

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