HELENA — Montana’s Public Service Commission decided Tuesday to sue CenturyLink for failing to promptly restore out-of-service landlines.
The five-member panel voted unanimously to file a lawsuit in a Montana district court sometime before Sept. 1, citing slow response times and service lapses for geographically isolated customers.
“I am very disappointed at the place we’re at right now and I do think we need to send a very strong message,” Commissioner Roger Koopman said before the voice vote.
The complaint will ask the court to levy fines against CenturyLink QC for violating the commission’s rule that 90 percent of trouble reports be cleared within 24 hours. Commissioner Travis Kavulla said the company has been fixing no more than 60 percent of downed phone lines in that time period.
“They’re candidly, grossly underperforming,” Kavulla said after the meeting.
CenturyLink spokeswoman Julia Joy said Tuesday morning that the company would comment on the commission’s action later in the day, but no response was provided and afternoon calls were not returned.
The commissioners also decided on Tuesday to threaten to revoke the ability of CenturyLink to receive certain federal grants for work in Montana if the telecommunications giant turns down a broadband grant that strictly benefits underserved rural customers.
Rate Analyst Gary Duncan said CenturyLink has been misusing federal grants for years by pocketing the funds instead of installing or updating phone lines and broadband cables. The physical networks are required to support landlines and Internet access.
“They have not invested in their infrastructure,” Adrienne Kernaghan of the Missouri River canyon said after the meeting. “It’s ancient by today’s standards.”
CenturyLink customers from the canyon area between Wolf Creek and Cascade attended the meeting to support a stern response to the lack of service they said they’re fed up with.
“We’re trying to put a face on what it’s like to live without telephone service,” Virginia Jamruszka-Misner said. The region north of Helena is out of cellphone range and CenturyLink is the only carrier that provides landlines there.
“People try to call us for days and we don’t know,” Jamruszka-Misner said. “Unless we pick up the phone, we don’t know whether it’s working or not.”