A 1997 study showed there weren't enough calls to surrounding communities to warrant extending local service.
By LAURE CIOFFI
VINDICATOR NEW CASTLE BUREAU
NEW CASTLE, Pa. -- Calling a neighbor can get pretty expensive for people in Lawrence County's 924 calling area.
Calls to bordering communities with different telephone exchanges, such as Ellwood City, Plain Grove and New Wilmington, are long distance.
State Rep. Frank LaGrotta of Ellwood City, D-10th, is hoping a formal complaint he filed with the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission will force Verizon to extend the 924 local calling area to those areas.
LaGrotta informally asked Verizon in February to study the 924 telephone exchange.
LaGrotta recently learned Verizon rejected the idea, however, saying it would only comply if ordered by a judge.
LaGrotta filed a formal complaint June 12, asking for a study.
Most people in the 924 exchange live in Slippery Rock and Scott townships. Calls to bordering communities always have been long distance because the 924 exchange was controlled by GTE, and the majority of Lawrence County used Bell Atlantic Telephone service.
Services merged: Bell Atlantic and GTE merged last year to create Verizon, however, and residents had hoped the change would decrease their telephone bills.
Ken Kaufman, who lives in the 924 exchange in Scott Township, said it's long distance for him to phone his granddaughter less than a mile from his home.
He said he started using a cellular telephone in May 2000 to call her and other friends to avoid the long-distance fees and his Verizon bill has since dropped by about $15 a month.
Verizon spokesman Lee Gierczynski said Verizon intends to give the administrative law judge a 1997 study it did of the 924 calling area showing there was not enough use to warrant extending the local calling area.
Gierczynski noted that changes in service would be up to customers who must vote to accept a larger calling area. If the area increases, so would the base charge for local calls, he said.