HJ/EDEnterprise Dispatch, Feb. 6, 2006

Cokato aiming to be part of metro calling area

By Kristen Miller
Staff Writer

If all goes according to plan, Cokato callers may join more than two million other users in the Twin Cities area next year with metro calling service added to their basic phone service.

Metro calling enables people with Cokato prefixes to dial numbers in the Twin Cities without a long distance charge.

However, adding metro calling also has the end result of increasing the basic rate of phone service by a nominal amount.

Sandy Peroutka has been working on getting extended phone service in Cokato for almost a year now.

The process begins with the gathering of signatures from 15 percent of the usage area. For Cokato, a total of 275 signatures are needed and 310 were obtained.

Peroutka visited with the Chamber of Commerce in April of 2004 and it has become the “moving force behind this,” she said.

“The chamber did an excellent job getting signatures for the petition,” she said.

The PUC than verified the signatures on the petition and approved the matter to go forward.

Currently, the PUC is working with local telephone companies to settle on the amount that the base rate would increase. The phone companies cannot make a profit from the arrangement, but can ask to have their costs covered, according to Karen Gibbons of Sprint.

Ballots may be sent to Cokato residents about metro calling as soon as May, if the PUC accepts the rate increase quote from phone companies.

The PUC will then send ballots to each entity with a 286 prefix phone number.

The ballots will explain what the rate increase will be and voters can approve or reject the extended service for the 286 exchange.

Residents will have six to seven weeks to return the ballots and it will take up to eight weeks for them to be verified by the PUC.

The PUC will then contact all the phone companies and they will have up to one year to implement the extended service area.

If the majority approves the rates, everyone with a 286 phone number will be affected by the rate increase.

“The process is going really well and I’m very impressed with the rates,” Peroutka said.

Dassel had been asked to participate with the change, but it decided not to.

If Dassel does decide to change, it must wait for Cokato to change to extended service because it can’t jump service areas. For example, Cokato couldn’t change over until Howard Lake did.

The only thing that will change if Cokato becomes apart of the extended service area, is there will be no toll for calls to others in the extended service area.

Metro calling is considered a boon for commercial and residential development by cities who have received it.

Winsted added metro calling last year and Howard Lake added it the previous year.

“It’s the first thing they ask for,” commented Winsted City Administrator Brent Mareck, referring to new businesses.

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