State extends price flexibility for CenturyLink
Consumer protection regulations remain in place
OLYMPIA, Wash. – Today the Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission (UTC) approved a settlement agreement allowing CenturyLink pricing flexibility in setting residential and business landline telephone rates.
Approval of the “alternative form of regulation,” or AFOR, gives CenturyLink more flexibility in determining rates for retail telephone services, permitting the company to change rates for most of its services in response to competition without commission review. The UTC will continue to regulate rates for other public interest services, such as 911 and low-income assistance, as well as wholesale services that CenturyLink provides to competitors. The AFOR approved today, replaces and expands on a previous AFOR that applied to Qwest Communications, implemented prior to that company’s merger with CenturyLink in 2011.
CenturyLink’s telephone services will also remain subject to state statutes and rules governing consumer protection, general terms and conditions of service and service quality. These include requirements for installation and maintenance performance, service availability, billing accuracy, and resolution of service outages.
The UTC’s order concludes that the proposed AFOR properly tailors regulation of the company to the reality of today’s telecommunications marketplace, with the additional understanding that the commission will continue to ensure that both wholesale and retail consumers receive the service quality to which they are entitled.
In the formal order, the three-member commission stated:
“The telecommunications marketplace in Washington, including the local telephone market, is vastly different than the historic monopoly environment that existed throughout most of the 20th century. Today Washington’s consumers have far more service options, most of which are available from companies using technologies that did not exist just a few decades ago…
…This proceeding affords the Commission and the Company the opportunity to acknowledge the realities of the 21st century marketplace by reducing unnecessary regulation and bolstering the ability of CenturyLink and its competitors to provide effective competitive telecommunications services to the ultimate benefit of this state’s consumers.”
CenturyLink, commission staff and the Public Counsel Section of the Attorney General’s Office filed the settlement agreement in August 2013, supporting new pricing flexibility for CenturyLink phone rates.
CenturyLink affiliates included in the settlement agreement are: CenturyTel of Washington (Gig Harbor and Cheney), CenturyTel of Inter Island (the San Juan Islands), CenturyTel of Cowiche (in Yakima County), and United Telephone of the Northwest (with customers in White Salmon, Poulsbo, Sunnyside and Prosser). Also covered by the plan are CenturyLink’s other major service territories including Tacoma, Seattle, Vancouver and Spokane.
The settlement agreement calls for the CenturyLink companies to continue to offer stand-alone local residential and business phone service. Should CenturyLink decide to cease offering stand-alone local residential and business phone service, it must petition the commission for approval.
The commission is the state agency in charge of regulating the rates and services of telephone companies operating in Washington, as well as classifying services and companies as competitive during the development of technological and market advancements in communications. It is the commission’s responsibility to ensure regulated companies provide safe and reliable service to customers at reasonable rates, while allowing them the opportunity to earn a fair profit. The commission does not regulate the rates of wireless, cable, or Internet telephone service.