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Consolidated customers lose long-distance service

DICKINSON - Area Consolidated customers who needed to make long-distance phone calls on Wednesday were forced to find alternative methods of communication for the day. Some individuals remained without long distance service through Thursday as Dickinson's Consolidated worked with new long distance carriers for all of their customers.

Consolidate General Manager Paul Schuetzler said the problem affected all of Consolidated's long-distance customers. The issues stemmed from Consolidated's underlying carrier, Zone Telecom Inc. and its network.

"We (Consolidated) have over 10,000 customers that were impacted. It was our entire territory, which is the whole southwest corner of the state," Schuetzler said.

Eamom Egan, chief financial officer of Zone Telecom Inc., said the problem actually originated with the Qwest telecom network, which directs some of Zone's long-distance callers. He added it affected other communication companies throughout North Dakota.

Schuetzler said he is not certain what caused the Zone Telecom Inc. or Qwest difficulties, but Consolidated is no longer using their services.

"There's a lot of speculation and lots of arrows flying between companies," Schuetzler said. "We're still digging to get to the bottom of it."

Egan was unsure of exactly when the problem was corrected.

"I believe it was up and running last night," Egan said. "It's much like a power outage, it goes up in stages."

The impact of this technical difficulty was even more devastating to Zone Telecom Inc., than it was for Consolidated.

"The number of phone lines that were involved were about 50,000 across North Dakota. We serve many other states, but North Dakota was the only state where we had this problem with the Qwest Network," Egan said.

As far as Egan knows, Zone Telecom Inc. is still trying to uncover answers, but the problem seems to be remedied.

Schuetzler said the handful of Consolidated customers who were still on the Zone Telecom network on Thursday, however, continued to have long distance difficulties.

"We're working diligently to correct it. A lot of them (customers) are up and running," Schuetzler said. "We're in the process of redirecting our customers to other long distance carriers.

Instead of connecting to Zone Telecom Inc.'s network, Consolidated has rerouted its long-distance services. Most Consolidated customers are now plugged into one of three different networks.

Schuetzler said as of Thursday, he hopes to have all of Consolidated's customers plugged into one of their three new carriers - Level 3, Verizon and Global Crossing - by the end of the day. Consolidated plans to continue routing calls through these companies.

"It ought to be better, to tell you the truth. Now if one of the underlying carriers has a problem, we can switch them to one of the other networks," Schuetzler said.

Using three separate companies should save time on redirecting services and will impact a smaller number of customers, compared to being plugged into one network, if any future difficulties emerge.

"We certainly understand how valuable communication is to all our customers," Schuetzler said. "It's not the quality of service we usually provide for our customers."

Schuetzler said any Consolidated customers who are still experiencing long-distance issues should call the company to regain services as soon as possible. Consolidated's customer service line is 701-483-4000, or call 1-888-225-5282.