Herald JournalHoward Lake-Waverly Herald, Aug. 26, 2002

Howard Lake to vote about joining metro calling area

By Lynda Jensen

By Lynda Jensen

Editor

Years of waiting culminated in a sudden decision Wednesday by the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission to allow Howard Lake residents to vote about adding the Twin Cities to its local calling area, for a fee.

The move took many by surprise, including citizens who were originally involved in the process and the city, since the PUC gave little notice.

Ballots were already mailed by the PUC to Howard Lake residents at the end of last week.

People who live in the 543 prefix will be allowed to cast one vote per phone line before Oct. 2. Once the ballot is mailed, it cannot be changed, said Sprint representative Karyn Gibson.

The ballot must be mailed back to the PUC, according to instructions sent to each address. Those who tossed their ballots over the weekend will not receive another one, Gibson said.

A decision will be made within 30 days of the Oct. 2 deadline.

City asks residents to wait before voting

The city plans to conduct an informational meeting at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 3 at the community center above the public library, before its usual council meeting, to address any questions about the choice that residents may have.

If a simple majority of the ballots are in favor of adding the service, it will allow local calls to be placed to Buffalo, Waverly, Montrose, Monticello, all of the metro suburbs, Forest Lake, Big Lake, St. Paul, Minneapolis, Hastings, Stillwater, and other cities that are included in the Twin Cities exchange.

Annandale and Winsted are not in the metro calling area, and therefore would remain long distance. Maple Lake is in the process of applying for the same vote, and if it is successful, would be local as well.

Existing services will remain intact, such as local calls available through the extended area service to Cokato.

However, the service will also cause an automatic increase in basic service per month for each residential line by about $10.24, and each business line by $20.50, if it passes.

This means that someone with several phone lines would have an increase on each line, Gibson said.

It doesn't matter if a household uses a line dedicated to the Internet, Gibson said. Any second line will be charged the same as the first, she said.

For example, if a business has four phone lines, each line will be charged the new rate, if the measure is approved. There are no exceptions, Gibson said.

A few long distance calls per month would make up the difference for the increased basic service, Smith said.

This might sound like a lot, until people consider the number of long distance calls they make to any one of the towns listed in the new calling area, commented Mayor Gerry Smith.

For example, someone with a grandchild or other relation in the Twin Cities would probably not consider the idea of being able to talk every day to their relatives initially, Smith said.

If the change did occur, many Howard Lake businesses would probably save thousands, City Administrator Kelly Bahn said. "It would be good for the (local) economy and business," she said.

There are 1,669 telephone lines in the 543 prefix that will receive ballots, Gibson said.

Residents should be careful reading the information with the ballot, since it may be confusing.

The notice being sent to Howard Lake callers contains a boxed area showing an increase of $9.04 for residential lines and $18.07 for businesses; however these figures do not reflect an additional charge in wording under the box, showing another fee for being in Sprint's metro rate band, which has to do with telephone relay service and 911, Gibson said.

One vote is being given per phone line, even if more than one phone line is used by that location, said Gibson said.

The process for a community voting about local service cannot be initiated by the city, and must start with a grass roots effort by citizens, Gibson said.

The community itself must be adjacent to another locally tied district, Gibson said. There is no such thing as leap frogging over other communities, Smith said.

The phone company remains neutral during the process, she said.

Originally, the process began when 15 percent of Howard Lake callers signed a petition to ask the phone company for this service, about four years ago.

This movement was spearheaded by Mary Galliger.

Since then, Howard Lake's process was delayed for a number of different reasons, Gibson said.

Among them, the PUC observed a two-year moratorium on adding local calling to outlying areas.

The modern-day division lines with exchanges go back to the early part of the 20th century, Gibson said.


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