Thursday, June 24, 1999

Cheaper calls a step closer

Ohio OKs rate for Middletown

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        MIDDLETOWN — Richard Nunlist, who has spent nearly seven years fighting for cheaper calling rates to Cincinnati and Hamilton exchanges, won a major battle this week.

        But it is way too early to celebrate.

        The Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO) approved an extended area of service with measured, or reduced, rates for the users of 35,000 telephone lines in the Middletown exchange. The commission also ordered Ameritech to ask for Federal Communications Commission (FCC) approval within 60 days.

        “This is a huge step forward, but it's definitely not the end,” said Mr. Nunlist, who petitioned for the change in March 1998, after being denied in 1994. “This should have been approved in 1994.”

        If the FCC approves the request, toll rates would drop by 90 percent for calls between the Middletown exchange and the Cincinnati and Hamilton exchanges. FCC approval is necessary because those calls cross a boundary set up by a federal court in the mid 1980s, said Dick Kimmins, PUCO spokesman.

        PUCO commissioners have vowed to support the request and “to do everything the commission can to help it get approved,” Mr. Kimmins said.

        The FCC has approved a request for this type of measured rate service once before, and that was in a state where only measured rate service was available, said Kurt Schroeder, FCC deputy chief of the network services division.

        Mr. Schroeder said that does not mean the request will be denied, but could make it more difficult to convince the FCC of the need. A decision could come within two months of the request, he said.

        Measured rate involves a reduced, per-minute charge. Flat rate allows unlimited calls that are covered in the regular telephone service bill.

        Bonnie Smyth applauds Mr. Nunlist's efforts and eagerly awaits the FCC decision which she hopes will mean a drastic reduction in her $200 monthly phone bills.

        Mrs. Smyth said all of her family and friends live in the Cincinnati exchange, including her elderly mother, whom she checks on constantly. Staying in touch is essential but costly.

        “Mom lives in Norwood. So near, yet so far,” Mrs. Smyth said. “I nearly need to take a tranquilizer before opening my bill. I've actually driven down the road to a telephone that has a Cincinnati line to try to avoid some of those costs.”

        The telephone dilemma is not unique. A growing number of communities is petitioning for extended area of service. PUCO reviews 50 to 100 such requests annually, Mr. Kimmins said.

        Neighboring Monroe won extended service to Cincinnati and Hamilton exchanges last year. Springboro's extended service went into effect in August 1998, creating toll-free calling to Dayton from Springboro, Franklin and Clearcreek Township. The Middletown exchange has had measured rate to Dayton exchanges about four years, but FCC approval was not necessary.

        The limited toll-free calling ham pers development efforts, Mr. Nunlist said.

        “Even though we are strategically located in the middle of a major market area and have a great location,” said Larry Wood, Middletown principal planner, “the long-distance telephone rate factor can put us at a disadvantage, depending upon the business. And in some instances the cost factor overrides the strategic location advantage. We need this change.”


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