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Case of published unlisted numbers stalls

January 06, 2009|By ANDREW SCHOTZ

HAGERSTOWN -- Seven months ago, the Maryland Public Service Commission pressed Verizon to explain how thousands of unlisted phone numbers were mistakenly printed in a public directory.

Since then, little has happened in the case. The most recent action was on Sept. 3, according to PSC spokeswoman LaWanda Edwards.

A message left on Tuesday for PSC Chairman Douglas Nazarian was not returned.

The long lag is a sharp contrast to how quickly the PSC took action last year after Allegheny Energy's controversial failed attempt at distributing energy-saving light bulbs.

Last January, nine days after The Herald-Mail reported Allegheny Energy was billing customers for the light bulbs, the PSC grilled utility officials at a hearing on lapses in the program. The company agreed that day to cancel the program and refund the money.

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On May 31, 2008, The Herald-Mail first reported that Ogden Directories' 2008-09 Washington EZ To Use Big Book included phone numbers that were supposed to be unlisted or nonpublished.

Unlisted numbers would not appear in a printed directory but would be in a directory-assistance database. Nonpublished numbers would not appear in either.

Verizon blamed a computer glitch for mistakenly including about 11,000 private numbers and addresses in listings it sold to Ogden.

Ogden and Verizon worked together to recall directories in exchange for $5 gift cards. New directories were printed and distributed.

Five days after The Herald-Mail's story, Verizon officials had to appear before the PSC to answer numerous questions.

Verizon and the Maryland Office of People's Counsel, an advocate for residential utility customers, later sparred in written filings.

The People's Counsel called for a formal evidentiary hearing, arguing that the release of unlisted numbers might have violated laws, regulations and terms of Verizon's tariff.

Verizon, which offered $25 credits to affected customers, disagreed. It argued that it didn't break any laws and accused the Office of People's Counsel of "trying to drum up yet another media spectacle."

The request for a formal hearing "has apparently gone nowhere with the commission," Deputy People's Counsel Theresa Czarski said Monday.

The last action in the case, on Sept. 3, was a PSC letter saying the People's Counsel didn't respond to Verizon's argument that the PSC had no authority to take action. The parties were invited to file additional responses, but it wasn't clear on Tuesday if they had been submitted.

Asked for comment on Tuesday, Verizon spokeswoman Sandra Arnette wrote in an e-mail, "There's no new information to report. As you know, when Verizon learned of the error, we quickly stepped up and worked with the directory publisher to correct it."

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