Herald JournalHerald Journal, Jan. 27, 2003

Metro calling a possibility for Winsted

By Julie Yurek

Metro calling, which would allow residents to call the Twin Cities area without long distance charges, may be headed to Winsted.

While discussing marketing of the industrial park at Tuesday's Winsted City Council meeting, real estate agent John Radde told the council that metro calling is an issue for some companies looking at where to build.

"It's closer than you think," said council member Tom Ollig, when asked how far away metro calling is from coming to Winsted.

Ollig is the manager at TDS TELECOM, the local telephone company located in Winsted and Monticello. As an employee of a telephone company, he must remain neutral, but he could explain to the city council how the process works, he said.

Residents would have two options to choose from for local service, a flat rate or measured rate, if metro calling passed, Ollig said. This is not related in any way to long distance service, which can be offered by any number of different service providers.

With a flat rate, which is used by most callers, residents pay a flat monthly fee. That fee would be added to what residents pay for local service.

Current rates in Winsted are $18.44 per month for a city residential line ($20.69 in the rural area), including surcharges but not taxes. Business line rates are $22.19 in the city and $25.59 rural.

The rate increase if metro calling is approved would be determined by a series of calculations. In Howard Lake's case, the increase amounted to just over $10 per month for a residential line and $20 per month for a business line.

The measured rate would have a lower monthly charge, but there would be a fee per minute for every call made. The measured rate is intended for people who use the telephone very little, often senior citizens.

Winsted meets the first requirement to become part of the metro calling area ­ bordering an adjacent calling area ­ so that's important, Ollig said.

Howard Lake voted to approve metro calling last fall, and is expected to become effective late this year.

New Germany has had metro calling for several years.

In order for a city to get metro calling, it must start from the actions of the residents, Ollig said.

A citizen must contact the public utilities commission to get a petition sent to him or her, Ollig said.

Fifteen percent of the telephone customers must sign the petition, which in Winsted's case is about 200 to 250 people, he said.

After the petition is signed, a vote would be conducted. Fifty-one percent of the people who vote would need to vote yes for metro calling to pass, Ollig said.

It is unknown if anyone from Winsted has contacted the public utilities commission. However, about six months ago, City Attorney Fran Eggert was approached at home by a woman regarding a petition for metro calling, he said. The woman did not give her name.

Council member Bonnie Quast said she is willing to get signatures.

"It's possible that the woman who contacted Fran may have been getting signatures without the petition from the commission," Ollig said.

Ollig suggested Quast call the utilities commission to see if anyone has already started the process.

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