By Ellen Thompson/Havre Daily Newsfirstname.lastname@example.org
The Montana Public Service Commission approved a settlement last week between Montana's independent telephone companies, including Triangle Telephone Cooperative, and Western Wireless, the company that operates Cellular One.
The settlement will mean higher telephone bills for Triangle customers.
The Federal Communica-tions Commission had passed a law requiring all telephone companies to allow a client disconnecting service to keep her or his phone number and use it for wireless service with another company, a practice called local phone number portability. The FCC required compliance by May 24, but allowed independent phone companies to apply to their state public service commissions for suspension of the rule.
Triangle, along with 12 other companies, had received a suspension until Nov. 24. Instead of entering regulatory proceedings to decide if the suspension could be made permanent, the companies came to a settlement with Western Wireless, which was arguing that the companies should comply with the FCC rule.
"We worked out a deal with Western Wireless whereby Cellular One would pick up a pretty fair portion of the costs associated," said Mike Strand, counsel for Montana Independent Telecommunications Systems, a statewide telephone association that was representing Triangle in the settlement.
"It's like having Ford pay customers to buy a Chevrolet. The whole principal of making customers who stay pay for those who leave is upside down," said Geoff Feiss, general manager of Montana Telecommunications Association, co-petitioner with Montana Independent Telecommunications Systems.
Customers with Triangle service will see a price increase of up to $1 a month, said Rick Stevens, general manager of Triangle.
Qwest customers in Havre already share the burden for the cost of local number portability.
Western Wireless could not be reached for comment.