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No toll' Calls go off long distance

New calling zone removes charge between four cities

ROGUE RIVER ' Friday was the first day of local toll-free calling from Rogue River to Medford. And all over town, folks were talking excitedly about the message ' the one that says, It is no longer necessary to dial — when calling this number.

No one was more excited than Shayne Maxwell, who spent the past 14 years paying up to &

36;300 a month in Qwest local long distance charges and the past 14 months working to eliminate them for herself and her community.

Maxwell and friends collected more than 3,800 signatures on petitions to convince the Public Utilities Commission that creating a reciprocal local calling zone for Rogue River, Gold Hill, Central Point and Medford was a good idea.

I just thought it was isolating and unreasonable we couldn't even call our neighbors or our county seat without getting charged long-distance rates, said Maxwell.

— Forgetting that Friday was the changeover, Maxwell started dialing the 11 digits necessary to call a friend just down the road when she got the message. Maxwell joked that hearing that message made her feel like Dorothy reaching the end of the rainbow.

I feel like I've been following the yellow brick road, and today I finally got to Oz, said Maxwell. It's been a long process of wicked witches, flying monkeys and all sorts of obstacles. But today, it finally happened. We're connected!

The new calling zone means the flat rate for residential customers increases from &

36;1.28 to &

36;2.03 for unlimited calling in the new areas. Business rates increase from &

36;1.95 to &

36;3.05.

City Administrator Mark Reagles said a monthly increase of 75 cents for residents or &

36;1.10 for businesses is a drop in the bucket compared to what most individuals and businesses will save.

It's great, he said. We're going to save a pretty good chunk of change.

Rogue River schools Superintendent Charles Hellman said the new toll-free calling plan is going to save his four schools about &

36;4,600 annually.

I think Shayne's accomplishment is tremendous for the school district and the community, said Hellman. The district saves money, which can go into our instructional program.

Even people who will see relatively small savings were tickled at the news. Rechelle Cook is a cashier at Rays Market in Rogue River. Cook lives in Medford and checks in with her daughter after school each day. Cook said that one daily call has cost her more than &

36;5 a week.

I think this is just great, said Cook. I can't wait to see my phone bill.

Customers with special calling features such as speed dialing, call forwarding or any type of automated dialing or call-routing system must reprogram those numbers as local calls. Numbers stored on cell phones which were previously toll charges in these four calling zones also will have to be reprogrammed.

I have a Medford-based cell phone, said Maxwell. I just tried to call my husband and realized I'm going to have to change all the numbers.

Customers with a measured rate calling plan will now pay 4 cents a minute, with a 50 percent discount for calls made between 5 p.m. and 8 a.m.

Qwest says residential customers with the measured rate who find they are paying more than &

36;2.03 (or approximately 50 minutes of calling) each month may want to consider converting their service to the unlimited option. Residential customers can change their calling option for free any time; businesses have until Nov. 16 to change free of charge.

Rogue River Mayor Phil Peeters said he's grateful to Maxwell, adding, I'm very proud of the fact that a local citizen would take on such a monumental task.

Not content with a five-city calling zone (Rogue River already had toll-free calling to Grants Pass), Maxwell has set her sights on connecting the entire Rogue Valley ' Jackson and Josephine counties ' into one local calling zone.

The process already is under way. The PUC has requested the four telephone companies serving the area ' Qwest, Verizon, Sprint and Citizens ' to begin their rates investigations.

It's been great to get to Oz, said Maxwell. Now I want to see the Wizard.

Reach reporter Sanne Specht at 776-4497 or e-mail .