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Verizon fights PSC hearing

September 13, 2008|By ANDREW SCHOTZ

WASHINGTON COUNTY - Verizon is arguing that it didn't break the law by releasing unpublished phone numbers and Maryland's Public Service Commission doesn't have authority to order remedies, according to recent filings in the case.

The Maryland Office of People's Counsel, an advocate for residential utility customers, has asked the PSC for a formal hearing on the release of about 11,000 unlisted and nonpublished phone numbers in the Washington County area.

Verizon, which appeared before the PSC more than three months ago, said the official hearing isn't necessary and would generate unnecessary publicity about a sensitive issue the company has tried to handle discreetly.

The numbers were printed in Ogden Directories' 2008-09 Washington County EZ To Use Big Book, but the information was supplied by Verizon, which was legally required to do.

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The PSC summoned Verizon representatives to a meeting in Baltimore on June 5, five days after a Herald-Mail story made public the phone company's mistake.

Verizon apologized for the error, which was attributed to a computer glitch.

The company has let customers change their phone numbers at no charge and promised a $25 credit, the approximate cost of having an unlisted or nonpublished number for a year.

Ogden and Verizon worked together to recall thousands of directories in exchange for $5 gift cards. The effort was framed as a recycling initiative, with proceeds going to a local charity; no mention was made of the unlisted phone numbers.

New directories were printed and distributed.

Verizon told the PSC it would pay up to $1,000 apiece for security systems for people whose safety was in jeopardy, but the company has declined to say how many requests it approved.

The PSC has not taken any action in the 14 weeks since it met with Verizon.

On July 25, the Office of People's Counsel filed a request for a formal, evidentiary hearing, with sworn witnesses.

Its motion says an evidentiary hearing would give the commission a chance to do a fuller investigation instead of relying on Verizon's account.

The disclosure of private information might have violated laws, regulations and terms of Verizon's tariff, the People's Counsel's motion says.

Verizon, in its response, says it didn't break any law or its tariff terms, so its response to customers' concerns is a business decision.

Although it tries to keep unlisted and nonpublished information private, made addresses already were available through other public-information sources, Verizon's response says.

"(The People's Counsel's) effort to retrench old ground and drum up yet another media spectacle is irresponsible and should be denied," Verizon filing says.

In a Sept. 3 letter, the PSC's executive secretary, Terry J. Romine, says the People's Counsel, in its latest filing, didn't respond to Verizon's argument that the PSC has no authority to take action.

The People's Counsel deadline to respond is Monday. Then, Verizon and the PSC staff have until Sept. 26 to file additional replies.

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