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Md. PSC orders Verizon appearance

Agency wants to know how private information was released

Agency wants to know how private information was released

June 04, 2008|By ERIN JULIUS and ANDREW SCHOTZ

HAGERSTOWN -- The Maryland Public Service Commission has ordered Verizon to appear before the regulatory agency in Baltimore on Thursday to explain how private information of Washington County residents was released to a telephone directory publisher, PSC spokeswoman LaWanda Edwards said.

Unlisted and unpublished telephone numbers of more than 12,000 customers were printed in the Washington County Phone Book after Verizon inadvertently sold the information to the phone book publisher, Ogden Directories Inc., The Herald-Mail reported Saturday.

When it discovered the problem, Ogden asked the postal service to stop delivering the books, but a majority already had been distributed.

The PSC, which regulates such utilities as gas, electric, telephone, water and sewage disposal companies, learned about the situation Monday afternoon, Edwards said.

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"As soon as we found out about it, we contacted Verizon," she said. "Because of the public safety issue, we wanted to have this situation resolved as soon as possible."

Verizon spokesman Harry J. Mitchell said Friday that the company will change the phone numbers of customers who were affected at no charge and, for one year, will waive the $1.89 monthly fee to have an unlisted or nonpublished number.

In an e-mail Tuesday, he wrote, "I'll re-emphasize that Verizon accurately provides millions of listings annually to numerous directory providers across the country, and we take that function very seriously. We're working with affected customers and the directory publisher to address concerns."

According to information in a June 3 letter from the PSC to Verizon officials, Verizon "advised the Commissioners by e-mail that '[a]s a result of a 'feed error' from IT,'" Verizon inadvertently sent approximately 12,400 nonlisted/nonpublished listings to Ogden Directories Inc., which publishes Washington County Phone Book, also known as the EZ To Use Big Book.

The PSC, in directing Verizon to appear before the commission, said it wanted the phone company to address the following questions:

· What information was transmitted by Verizon to EZ Book?

· Did Verizon transmit unpublished or unlisted customers' address and telephone information to 411.com or any entity other than EZ Book at or about the same time? What steps has Verizon taken to identify other possible transmission errors?

· When did the transmission error occur? What steps did Verizon take to identify the problems and when?

· Did the information transmitted in error include information relating to other carriers' customers? If so, what companies? Have those companies been notified of the "error"? When did that notification occur?

· How many customers in the Hagerstown area requested unlisted telephone numbers? Unpublished? What percentage of customers in each category in the Hagerstown area were transmitted to EZ Book or any other entity?

· Where, as a result of the transmission error, can unpublished customers' address and telephone information now be accessed? How long was their information available publicly?

· How was the transmission error committed? Who and what Verizon organization is responsible?

· What steps has Verizon taken to identify affected customers?

· How much was Verizon paid by EZ Book in connection with the transmission of customer information for the 2008-09 Washington County Phone Book?

Following the hearing, the commission could take action ranging from ordering Verizon to change some practices to implementing fines, Edwards said.

This is not the first time Verizon has included unlisted phone numbers in directory listings.

The Washington Post reported in August 2004 that thousands of unlisted phone numbers appeared in directories published by Verizon and other companies.

Asked about this Tuesday, Mitchell wrote in an e-mail: "In the 2003-04 time frame, a total of about 9,000 'non-list' listings were inadvertently included among 54 different directory titles in Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia."

Nonlist listings refers to numbers that are not supposed to appear in a printed directory, but would be in a directory-assistance database.

Mitchell wrote that the problem then was "a system conversion issue."

The Post story says Verizon caught the mistake in late April of that year after a customer complained, "but did not begin notifying other affected consumers until June, when it became clear that thousands of unlisted numbers had mistakenly been made public."

The publishers of other directories were notified in July of that year, the story says.

"We were basically getting a feel for how many listings there were," Mitchell was quoted as saying in the Post's story. "It took a while to make that happen."

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