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[whitespace] Lack of telephone lines leaves WG residents "on hold"

Pacific Bell struggles to meet greater demand

Willow Glen--Kate Kelly moved into her new home in Willow Glen on Nov. 15, but she didn't get a phone line until last week.

And she's not the only person in Willow Glen who's having trouble getting phone service.

Kelly said a representative from Pacific Bell told her that there were 30 people in Willow Glen waiting for phone lines.

PacBell spokesman Rodd Aubrey said he didn't know how many people in Willow Glen hadn't received phone service they had requested. But he did say the phone company is aware of the problem of getting enough phone lines to meet the growing demand in the Bay Area.

"With all the growth in the area, there's really high demand for telecommunications," he said. "We see that there's a need there. We're doing all we can."

In the past, the average home had only two phone lines, Aubrey said. But in this day and age of modems, DSL, fax machines and the Internet, Willow Glen residents are demanding more phone lines than ever--and more than PacBell ever anticipated.

Another PacBell spokesman, John Britton, said the company is prioritizing requests for primary lines over those for secondary lines when lines are so scarce.

"If somebody doesn't have a primary line, that's potentially a problem," Britton said.

But Kelly's home is actually a cottage behind her landlord's home on Minnesota Avenue, so PacBell considered hers a secondary line, she said. She had placed an order for a phone line weeks before her move, but when she didn't have a dial tone on Nov. 15, she called PacBell to ask why.

After many calls to the company yielded few answers, she said she was finally told that there were no more available lines in Willow Glen. The earliest she could expect a line of her own was July, when the phone company expected to finish adding new lines.

"I was just flabbergasted," she said. "'What do you mean I can't have a phone until July?'"

Aubrey said PacBell is laying "dozens of new lines" in the area of Willow Glen near Plummer Avenue and they should be available to ease demand this month. And PacBell engineering manager Walt Biel said the company is in the midst of laying a new central cable. When completed in June or July, the cable should accommodate a minimum of 3,600 more phone lines in the area south of the its downtown office, including Willow Glen, he said.

Meanwhile, PacBell has been doing "reinforcement" jobs to get people phone service, but those are just patch jobs, Biel said.

"You can complete a job today," he said, "and next week you have more demands."

Kim Brown and her family had trouble getting a primary line to their remodeled home on Mercer Avenue near Hicks Avenue. They returned to the home on Nov. 15, but didn't get a line until Dec. 20, she said.

"It's a long time to live without a phone," she said. "People in Willow Glen have three to five lines. I was just trying to get one."

Brown said PacBell representatives told her to expect a line Dec. 1, and then Dec. 6. But when they didn't live up to their promises, they just stopped telling her to expect anything.

"They're very good at passing you from department to department," she said.

Brown said she faxed a complaint to the Public Utilities Commission on Dec. 5, and then called on Dec. 18. She said a PUC representative told her that she had a dial tone.

But Brown said that on Dec. 15, a PacBell technician came to her house but told her he couldn't get her a phone line and that the mess he saw there was the worst he had seen in his six months with PacBell.

She finally did get primary service on Dec. 20, 35 days after she expected it.

PacBell is required to report any held-orders to the Public Utilities Commission, or phone lines that were not provided within 30 days of the request.

Daljit Singh, service utilities engineer with the PUC, said the reports are filed quarterly. The last report, filed at the end of October, reported only one held order in the Bay Area. The next report isn't due until the end of January, he said.

Kelly was able to get a line on Jan. 10, 56 days after she had requested it, and it only came about through persistence.

She just kept calling the company until she spoke to someone new, and she explained to her the problem from start to finish.

Kelly said the woman she spoke to was surprised that she didn't yet have a line and that she might have to wait until July. She filled out a new order for Kelly's line that listed it as a primary line, and only days later a dial tone was there.

"She could think outside the box," Kelly said of the representative she worked with. "I'm very relieved. It's just one more little hassle that I didn't need."
Kate Carter

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