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Rio Communications faces lawsuits

Internet and phone service are up and running again for 150 local customers who subscribe to a Bend-based provider.

Services provided by Rio Communications were compromised or completely cut off for about two weeks, resulting in customers' inability to use phones or the Internet. A hardware failure affected service statewide, according to a telephone greeting recorded during the outage. The equipment reportedly has been fixed.

One Rio customer, Ashland School District, had no phone service off and on for several days last month, leaving parents with no way to contact schools. The district changed its telephone provider to Oregon Telecom, hooking up individual schools last week, said district business manager Loren Luman.

The middle school and high school should have restored phone service by today, he added. The district's Internet and e-mail service through Ashland Fiber Network was not affected.

— The long outage was inexcusable for a provider of Rio's size, said subscriber Gary Walters of Medford-based Helix Information Services. Walters lost his largest customer, which moved its service to Seattle, when Helix's Internet pipeline through Rio was down for 10 days, he said. Helix plans to drop Rio, formerly its primary vendor, Walters added.

Rio's president, Brad Schaffer, was out of town and could not comment on the outage, a Rio spokeswoman said.

Two Medford businesses have filed lawsuits alleging Rio breached their contracts. The owners of Prime Time Ventures and GCW Communications Consultants, which sued Rio, are former employees of the company.

Jeff Rhoden and Scott Hansen charge Rio with intentionally trying to damage their businesses by interrupting and disconnecting phone service. When they tried to transfer to Qwest, Rio refused to release its hold on the telephone port, according to their court claim.

Rhoden and Hansen said they would not discuss the case while their suit was still pending. Rio's attorneys have not filed a response to the suit and declined to comment.

Rio Communications is 75 percent owned by the Cow Creek Band of the Umpqua Tribe of Indians.

Reach reporter Sarah Lemon at 776-4487, or e-mail .