By Jennifer Grimes

Triplicate staff writer

To avoid giving $38 million back to ratepayers in Del Norte County and Orick, Verizon may not sell its local phone operations to Citizen Communications.

By not selling, the state would lose the authority to force the company to make infrastructure improvements such as adding more digital service lines and extending phone lines to outlying areas.

The president of the California Public Utilities Commission decided $38 million should go back to ratepayers, because Verizon was charging too much for the services it offered here.

On May 14, the PUC will rule whether to charge Verizon the $38 million. That money would go into an interest bearing account and used to reduce phone bills for five years.

After the ruling, Verizon representatives said they will decide whether to sell to Citizen or not.

When asked if the decision may stop them from selling, Verizon representative Julia Wilson said, That could be possible. Were still evaluating the Lynch decision.

I think Verizon has used a scare tactic, saying they wont sell, said Del Norte County Counsel Robert Black.

I think they have business reasons for wanting to sell. They want to concentrate services in more urban areas, he added.

Last year, the county sued the phone company for not putting in lines to Bar-O-Boys Ranch while charging the community higher than normal rates.

The decision on that case was postponed by the PUC because a sale to Citizen was pending.

But Black said even if Verizon doesnt sell and doesnt use its profits to upgrade the local phone system, the county could still force the issue.

By suing Verizon, the county would be asking the PUC to decide whether the phone companys practices are fair.

If the PUC ruled Verizon is not providing proper service and structure for the price its charging, the PUC could force it to remedy the situation.