HJ/EDHerald Journal, Feb. 13, 2006

Metro calling proposed for Lester Prairie

By Dave Cox
Staff Writer

Gerald Wassmund of Lester Prairie is not satisfied with his local phone service.

He would like to see Lester Prairie join the more than two million telephone users in the Twin Cities area that have metro calling service.

Metro phone service would allow people in Lester Prairie to call people in other parts of the metro calling area without paying a long distance charge.

Wassmund is the sponsor of a petition to take the question to the next level.

“Some people I have talked to are very enthusiastic, and are helping to get more signatures,” Wassmund said.

He acknowledged that some people in the area who don’t make many calls are not in favor or the change, but said that other residents and businesses in the area seem to support the idea.

The Public Utilities Commission (PUC) requires signatures from 15 percent of the usage area in order to move forward.

In Lester Prairie, where just under 1,200 customers are served by the 395 exchange, this means that about 180 signatures are needed, according to Wassmund. “We are shooting for 200 or 220, in case some signatures are disqualified,” Wassmund commented.

Persons signing the petition must be customers in the petitioning exchange. Only one signature per household or business is permitted.

If enough residents sign the petition, it will be forwarded to the PUC.

The PUC would verify the signatures, and then ask Sprint to come up with a price to provide the service, Wassmund said.

Phone companies cannot make a profit from the arrangement, but can request that their costs be covered by the rate increase.

Wassmund said that many people have asked how the change would affect their local phone bills.

The actual increase for Lester Prairie would be determined by the local phone company and approved by the PUC.

Other local cities that have recently approved metro phone service include Winsted and Howard Lake.

Howard Lake, which has Sprint as a service provider, has had metro phone service since December 2003.

The rate increase would be different for residential accounts than for business accounts.

The base rate in Howard Lake increased by $10.24 per line for residential service, and $20.50 per line for business service.

In Winsted, service is provided by TDS Telecom.

Winsted has had metro phone service since February 2005.

Rates increased by $13.55 for residential flat rate service, and $21.75 per line for business flat rate service.

If the PUC approves the rate increase, it will send ballots to each entity that has a phone number with a 395 prefix.

The ballots will explain what the rate increase would be, and voters can approve or reject the extended service.

If the change is approved, the phone company would have up to one year to implement the service.

If the majority of voters approves the rate changes, everyone with a 395 phone number prefix will be affected by the increase.

The entire process can take up to two years, according to Wassmund.

If the majority of voters are opposed to the change, the exchange cannot initiate a new petition for two years.

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