Lakewood Miffed at ZUMing Charges for Nearby Phone Calls

Times Staff Writer

An "oversight" by General Telephone Co. could leave residents of a small pocket of northwest Lakewood residents with a complicated problem:

They would be able to call for free areas as far as 12 miles away such as Downey and Pico Rivera, but they would be charged to call their own city hall just two miles away.

"We have people in this city who can spit farther than they can call free," Vice Mayor Marc Titel told GTE officials this week.

The City Council and four GTE representatives met in what could be the first of several sessions throughout the summer to discuss changes in the way Lakewood residents are charged for calls under the so-called Zone Usage Measurement or "ZUM" system.

The system, first implemented in Los Angeles County in 1980, allows customers in metropolitan areas to call outside their flat-fee, local calling areas for less than normal long-distance rates.

GTE officials say the system is meant to equalize the size of flat-rate calling areas by increasing the size of some exchanges and decreasing others.

"The purpose of ZUM is to replace some long-distance rates and create a lower-priced toll rate," said Dale B. Rycraft, district manager of community relations. "It is implemented to save money for our customers."

The Southeast area is one of the last areas in the county to adopt the ZUM plan. But under GTE's proposal, residents and businesses in the northwest tip of Lakewood would be billed a ZUM charge to call their own city hall. About 16,000 residents in east Lakewood would be charged to call nearby Long Beach.

"In a city our size, to have to pay a toll charge to call within our city boundaries is a highly unusual situation," said Councilwoman Jacqueline Rynerson, who is one of 700 northwest Lakewood residents affected by the configuration. "Not only would I be charged to call City Hall, but some residents in the eastern portion of Lakewood would not be able to call me" without being charged.

Under the ZUM system, calls to adjacent exchanges are free, but calls that cross one or more exchanges are subject to a charge. Calls across one exchange would cost 8 cents for the first minute and 3 cents for each additional minute Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Calls across two exhanges would cost 10 cents for the first minute and 5 cents for each additional minute during business hours.

Because Lakewood is divided into four exchanges--the Norwalk, Lakewood, Long Beach and Compton exchanges--it would cost some Lakewood residents a ZUM charge to call areas in their city as well as in Long Beach.

"Just to call my pediatrician and a lot of stores I do business with would add $100 to my phone bill a month," said Lakewood resident Theresa Cooper, who collected about 350 signatures from residents opposing the rate changes last year.

City officials argue that the ZUM system is unfair because many Lakewood residents who have close ties to Long Beach would be charged to call there.

"Under this plan I will have free calling to San Pedro; well, who cares? I rarely call San Pedro," said Rynerson. "My community of interest is in the Lakewood and Long Beach area."

Pressure from residents and city officials prompted GTE to ask the California Public Utilities Commission to approve a one-year moratorium last June on ZUM charges between the Norwalk, Long Beach and Alamitos exchanges. Last month the PUC approved an extension on the moratorium that expires in December.

One alternative suggested by the City Council is to adjust the company's toll-measuring system to determine the cheapest rates for Lakewood residents.

"They are looking at this from a technical point of view and we are looking at from the point of view of how it impacts the community," Rynerson said. "Somewhere between the two we are going to have to find a solution that satisfies the community we serve."

The next meeting is scheduled for June 30.

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