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CenturyLink to update telephone service around Belfield

BISMARCK--The North Dakota Public Service Commission approved an agreement that requires CenturyLink to improve phone service to some western North Dakota communities and includes a commitment of $2.66 million in infrastructure improvements.

BISMARCK-The North Dakota Public Service Commission approved an agreement that requires CenturyLink to improve phone service to some western North Dakota communities and includes a commitment of $2.66 million in infrastructure improvements.

The order comes after the commission filed a formal complaint against the company for a series of complaints related to service.

"This settlement shows a major commitment from CenturyLink to improve service to their customers by rehabilitating their cable network and installing more fiber," said Commissioner Randy Christmann in a press release. "Taking care of their staffing shortage problem seems to already be making a noticeable improvement."

He said this is the first time, in four years and potentially much longer, that the PSC has had to step in. But with little regulation on what is acceptable phone service, the PSC relies on public input.
In the complaint, commission advocacy staff alleged that CenturyLink violated quality of service requirements for telecommunications companies by failing to address problems, such as phone lines not working, in a timely manner.
The complaint included 28 different customers that contacted the commission after the company failed to promptly address problems with their telephone service. While the complaint includes customers from different areas of the state, communities in western North Dakota made up the majority of the complaints and were identified as areas with recurring service issues due to aging infrastructure and CenturyLink's staffing shortages in western North Dakota.

The company currently has no offices in the western side of the state.
"Customers in these areas went far too long without adequate telephone service, so this resolution is much needed and long awaited," said Commission Chair Julie Fedorchak in a press release. "The good news is these investments will resolve the telephone issues and significantly enhance broadband services for this area as well."
The order approved last week is the result of a settlement agreement worked out between Commission advocacy staff and CenturyLink. In the settlement, CenturyLink agrees to:
• Rehabilitate or replace phone cable routes in the Belfield exchange and the Fairview, Mont. exchange.

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• Expand fiber in the area. CenturyLink will use $1.2 million in federal funding available through the Connect America Fund to expedite the construction of fiber in the Belfield area. The addition of fiber will strengthen the overall phone system in that area, and certain customers will have access to broadband when complete.
• Fully staff all positions in western North Dakota in order to provide adequate coverage and timely response when customers report problems.
• CenturyLink has agreed to improve communication with customers when they report a problem, including providing a repair commitment date during the initial call and providing advanced notification when that date cannot be met.

The company has also agreed to provide information to the customers included in the complaint about the progress of the rehabilitation projects and will implement an internal notification system to North Dakota supervisors when problems are reported.

CenturyLink has committed to completing the rehabilitation of the phone cables and the installation of the fiber by the end of 2017.

CenturyLink will provide the commission with a monthly progress report.

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