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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Saturday, May 22, 2004

Local Verizon workers optimistic

By Debbie Sokei and Sean Hao
Advertiser Staff Writers

Pam Poaha has seen many changes at Hawai'i's main telephone company as it has changed from Hawaiian Tel to GTE then Verizon over the years. Like Verizon's 1,700 other workers the 32-year employee was informed yesterday that the company agreed to sell its Hawai'i operations to Washington, D.C.-based Carlyle Group.

Phone company here traces roots to 1883

1883 — Mutual Telephone Co. incorporates under charter from King Kalakaua. Judge Herman Widemann, Samuel M. Damon and Archibald Cleghorn, father of Princess Ka'iulani, form Mutual to compete with Hawai'i's first phone service, Hawaiian Bell Telephone Co. established a few years earlier.

1894 — Mutual takes over Hawaiian Bell, which was started by Maui businessman Charles H. Dickey and was not affiliated with the Bell system in the United States.

1928 — Mutual controls phone service on Maui, the Big Island and Kaua'i after several acquisitions.

1931 — Moloka'i Ranch Co. telephone system acquired by Mutual.

1946 — Mutual rounds out Neighbor Island phone service operation by acquiring Hawaiian Pineapple Co. phone system on Lana'i.

1954 — Mutual changes name to Hawaiian Telephone Co.

1967 — Connecticut-based GTE Corp. acquires Hawaiian Telephone, now known as GTE Hawaiian Tel.

2000 — GTE merges with the nation's largest local phone service company, New York-based Bell Atlantic, forming Verizon Communications. GTE Hawaiian Tel becomes Verizon Hawaii.

2004 — Verizon Communications agrees to sell Verizon Hawaii to Washington, D.C.-based investment firm The Carlyle Group, which plans to announce a new name for Verizon Hawaii.

"It will bring positive changes," said Poaha, 51. "It will bring job security. The company is going to hire more and everything will be locally owned and here in Hawai'i."

Under terms of the deal, which needs regulatory approval before closing next year, Carlyle and a group of local investors will pay $1.65 billion for the bulk of Verizon's Hawai'i business, excluding wireless services. Carlyle said its plan is to grow the operation by increasing local management and by boosting employment by bringing services that now are provided from the Mainland to Hawai'i.

That should improve customer service, said Sandra De La Cruz, a 28-year employee.

"I think because we are becoming a local company we are going to be better. We are going to react better to the resident concerns," she said. "The fact we will be doing it locally for ourselves will make a difference. We do a lot of interactions with the Mainland and stuff like that, but really their customers and products are different.

"I'm looking forward to it," De La Cruz said.

Mark Fujii, who works in a Verizon call center, agreed.

"I think the residents of Hawai'i will be happier since the company will be locally based," said the six-year employee.

Still, Fujii can't help but think about job security.

"The change will bring a lot of positives," he said. "There will be a lot of job openings and a lot of opportunities."

However, "when things change you don't know what they actually have in mind versus what they tell you. With any change you need to be concerned with what goes on."

Kevin Devera, who works in business collections for Verizon, feels good about the proposed sale.

"I'm optimistic," said the 25-year employee. "It'll be a long road ahead with new challenges. There will be more opportunities, and we will be able to determine what our outcome will be.

"It's not someone on the Mainland telling us this is how it's going to be done. The understanding is we'll have more local leadership. It'll be a company formed with local people again," Devera said.

Richard Medeiros, 45, who has been with Verizon and its predecessors for 27 years, looks forward to the changes proposed by Carlyle.

"I think that's going to be exciting," he said. "We have great hope. And we have a lot of heart for the island. We are going to be around for a while, I know that."

George Waialeale, a 37-year employee, was more skeptical about Carlyle's plans. Waialeale, a former union official, was concerned that Carlyle would sell off the least profitable portions of the company while keeping the best for itself.

"If Verizon, one of the biggest companies in the world can't make money and has to sell it off, how is Carlyle going to do it? My opinion is they're going to have to keep some of the jewels and get rid of some of the junk."