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Panel will outline local telephone zone

Boundaries are about to be set for a local calling area for Jackson and Josephine counties.

As requested by the Public Utilities Commission, state Sen. Lenn Hannon has appointed a 14-member Citizen Advisory Committee to help define the proposed calling zone.

The panel includes Jim Lewis, Jacksonville mayor and Rogue Valley Council of Governments president; Kay Harrison, Central Point councilwoman; Cate Hartzell, Ashland councilwoman; Flo Snyder, Glendale mayor; and Shayne Maxwell, Democratic candidate for House District 4.

I look forward to the day where I don't have to pay long-distance charges and dial 1-541 before calling any number in my own community and the Rogue Valley, said Maxwell.

Once boundary recommendations are forwarded from the advisory panel, the PUC may accept, modify or reject them. If the boundaries are accepted, the PUC will issue an order establishing the Rogue Valley local calling region's boundaries. The proposed calling zone will be the second in the state, with about 23 exchanges.

At that point, the region's four phone companies will begin filing estimated costs and proposed rates.

The investigation would then proceed through several reviews by the PUC, rate negotiations and conferences with the phone companies and public hearings.

Maxwell said the process of defining boundaries and creating cost equity for customers who have service with smaller phone companies is vital to the success of the region.

We're moving into the next level, Maxwell said. Determining the boundaries is step one, but I also want to address the concerns about smaller customer bases of the smaller phone companies such as Verizon and Sprint.

We need to find innovative ways to offset costs to the smaller phone companies' customers. I don't think most people who have Qwest would mind paying an extra 20 cents to pick up the whole region. We are all connected to each other.

The regional calling zone was prompted by an investigation for an extended area of service between Rogue River and Gold Hill, Central Point and Medford spearheaded by Maxwell.

Once Rogue River received approval for a rates investigation, the idea of a regional calling area gained momentum. Hannon and Maxwell requested a roundtable meeting between the PUC and community leaders, which was held in August in Rogue River.

Within a week, the PUC commissioners voted to approve the investigation into creating the regional zone and requested the citizen advisory committee be appointed.

I think the new calling region will be of benefit to Southern Oregon, Hannon said. We all stand to win. I'm delighted the PUC is pursuing this request to move ahead in this matter.

Sanne Specht is a free-lance writer living in Rogue River. Reach her at .