MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) – The state Public Service Board has stood by an earlier decision and ordered Verizon Vermont to rebate $8 million to its customers for failing to make timely repairs last year.

The board this week denied Verizon’s motion to reconsider its May 7 decision and waive $5.3 million of the $8 million in penalties.

Verizon acknowledged to the board that while it failed to respond to repair calls from customers in a timely fashion in 2003, the company argued there were extenuating circumstances involved. As a result, Verizon said, $5.3 million in penalties should be waived.

In its motion for reconsideration Verizon cited the following mitigating factors:

• For unknown reasons, the number of repair calls increased significantly in 2003.

• An increase in absenteeism at its repair centers coincided with the pending expiration of its labor contract.

• Given the company’s lower earnings in 2003, the $8 million is an excessive penalty and represents a much higher penalty than would be assessed in other states.

The Public Service Department, which represents consumers in utility rate cases, opposed Verizon’s request to lower the penalty.

The PSD pointed out that Verizon voluntarily agreed in 2000 to adhere to certain service quality benchmarks in return for “greater regulatory freedom.”

The PSD also argued that Verizon failed to provide sufficient information to justify a waiver of the penalty. The department also said the company’s inability to handle increased call volume at its repair centers was a result of its own business decisions.

“In our view the fundamental cause of the degradation of service quality was the company’s choice to reduce its workforce, which left the company without enough people to respond to troubles, make repairs, answer phones,” said Larry Lackey, the PSD’s director of telecommunications.

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