Herald JournalHerald Journal, Jan. 12, 2004

Metro calling vote for Winsted could be as soon as February

By Ryan Gueningsman

Winsted is getting close to being able to call 2.5 million people toll-free, but there are still some steps that need to be made before metro calling can go into effect.

"Right now, all the rates and cost studies have been sent to the Public Utilities Commission (PUC), and I believe on Jan. 15, our docket will go before the PUC," said TDS Telecom manager Tom Ollig.

At that time, the commission will hopefully approve the plan and rates, and ballots will go out in February for people to vote, he said,

"Every customer will get one ballot," Ollig said. "Whether you have one line at home, or 20 lines at your business, you're going to get one ballot."

Upon plan and rate approval, information will be provided as to exactly what the new rates are going to be.

"I've heard things that it's going to cost $40 a month, and that's not true ­ it'll be much less than that," he said.

"It will be in everybody's best interest to vote and return the ballot so that we get a majority of the people making the decision," he said. It will be a majority of those who return the ballots that will decide if Winsted gets metro calling.

If approved, equipment will be ordered, and all other telephone companies will have to program into their switching equipment that (320) 485 is now toll-free, he noted. If everything goes according to plan, and with the community's approval, metro calling could be in effect in November or December.

Ollig has also spoken with the Winsted Area Chamber of Commerce about soliciting support for metro calling.

"As a representative of the telephone company, I'm supposed to remain neutral," Ollig said. "I'm not supposed to like it or dislike it, but there are obvious advantages to Winsted if it did join the metro calling area."

Right now, Winsted has about 1,900 access lines, which translates to about 1,000 actual customers, because many homes or businesses have more than one line, Ollig said.

The Minneapolis/St. Paul metropolitan calling area is geographically the largest toll-free calling area in the United States right now, Ollig said.

One of the criteria for joining is that a city can only apply for metro calling if it borders a city already connected, which means the metro calling area is still expanding.

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