Montana PSC denies CenturyLink proposal to address service quality investigation

Montana PSC
Posted at 7:27 PM, Mar 13, 2024

HELENA — The Montana Public Service Commission says it’s rejected a proposal from CenturyLink to temporarily waive a rule on how the company must handle service outages and offer payments for certain customers to switch to another provider.

In 2021, the PSC opened an investigation into whether CenturyLink’s landline phone infrastructure is adequate in certain parts of rural Montana. Leaders said they were responding to customers’ complaints about long service outages, trouble reaching 911 and other issues.

In a 2022 filing, CenturyLink said they disagreed with any assertion that their service was inadequate or unreliable overall, but that they were open to a potential settlement. They submitted a proposal to resolve the investigation by giving about 600 eligible customers a one-time payment of $1,500, which would cover the costs of switching to satellite or wireless phone and internet service. At the same time, they would ask the PSC to give them a six-year waiver from the “Out-of-Service” rule, which requires regulated phone companies to clear 90% of out-of-service reports within a day.

CenturyLink said they’re facing growing challenges, due to competition from cell phone and broadband companies that aren’t regulated by the PSC.

In a statement Tuesday, the PSC said they voted unanimously to deny CenturyLink’s proposal. Commissioners expressed concerns that the alternatives to CenturyLink might not offer reliable service for these rural customers.

“While I understand CenturyLink’s position as to the growth of unregulated communications service providers, CenturyLink has not convinced me that there are other options for many of the folks who rely on CenturyLink’s service,” said PSC President James Brown. “CenturyLink’s proposed one-time payment would not help much if you can’t get other service at your home.”