Herald JournalHoward Lake-Waverly Herald, Sept. 9, 2002

Howard Lake residents weigh factors of metro calling

By Lynda Jensen

Several Howard Lake residents asked questions about the possibility of adding the Twin Cities metro area to the 543 calling service for a fee during an informational meeting Tuesday.

During the meeting, it was noted that Lakedale Link customers did not receive ballots. Most of the Howard Lake area is served by Sprint.

This situation will be corrected, with ballots being sent to Lakedale customers this week or early next, said Administrator Kelly Bahn.

The deadline of Oct. 2 will remain the same for both Sprint and Lakedale customers, she said. Sprint customers received their ballots more than a week ago.

The flap occurred because Sprint apparently was the only telephone company giving local phone service when the petition was originally filed, Bahn said.

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

Those who wish to contact the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission may do so by calling (651) 296-0406, or 800-657-3782.

Another question was whether the area code of 320 would remain the same, which it would, said Sprint representative Karyn Gibson.

Callers would be dialling 10-digit numbers to access local calls to the Twin Cities area, she said. Typically, a call is billed long distance when a "1" is dialled in front of the 10-digit number, Gibson said.

When the ballots are counted, a simple majority would determine if nearly all of the metro area would become local calls, for a fee (see boxed area).

This means that 50 percent of ballots that are received, plus one, would make the decision.

Callers in the metro area would incur higher rates to equalize the addition of Howard Lake ­ but only a fraction of a cent, since there are so many callers in the metro area, Gibson said.

Callers would not be charged the new rate until the service is actually in place and working, if it is passed, Gibson said.

Residents may choose their own long distance carrier as before, and would be able to call Cokato locally as before, she said.

Several aspects of the local calling idea were noted, including the huge impact it would have on attracting businesses to the area, especially in the industrial park.

Adding the metro area to local calling would be a tremendous benefit to the industrial park, and possibly bring in good paying jobs for young people, said resident Pat Van Oss.

"We lost a business in town, Clinic Cab," Van Oss said. "We lost it for that simple reason (not having local metro calling)."

Van Oss pointed to the number of graduates that return after five years. "It speaks volumes."

It was also discussed during the school site issue as being a big plus for the Howard Lake area when it came to saving long distance calls for the school district, Mayor Gerry Smith said.

Council member Don Danford asked if the addition of local metro calls would crowd the lines, and Gibson confirmed that it would, at least initially.

This means that callers might have occasional problems receiving a dial tone or obtaining completed calls. "We'll lease more lines as fast as we can," she said.

However, callers would keep the same quality as before, regarding static on the line, and this should not affect the decision, Gibson said.

"Static has more to do with the line in your front yard," Gibson said.

However, the service would 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 would be charged the same as the first, she said.

In fact, Internet users should be charged more because they physically use more cable for longer periods of time.

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


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