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New York Telephone will ring in the new year with a rate increase that will boost the monthly phone bill of Western New York residents by 7.53 percent a month.

Under the new rates the telephone company filed Friday with the state Public Service Commission, the average bill for residential phone service in Western New York will rise by $2.09 a month, to $29.85 from $27.76.

The new rates are part of a $250 million rate hike for New York Telephone that the PSC approved on Dec. 19, even though three administrative law judges had recommended that the rate hike be limited to just $23.6 million.

The phone company originally requested a rate increase of $964 million, but the commission staff last year recommended that it be allowed $445 million.

The new rates also will mean even bigger increases for residents in 12 Western New York communities that are being reclassified into new, and more expensive, rate groups.

In Gowanda, for example, the move into a higher rate group will add $3.84 a month to the line access charge paid by residential customers, said Cliff Lee, a New York Telephone spokesman.

The new rate groups also will affect residents in Ellicottville and Little Valley in Cattaraugus County, along with the Niagara County community of Barker.

In Wyoming County, Bliss and Varysburg are being moved into higher rate groups, along with Oakfield and Byron in Genesee County. Kendall, Waterport and Holley are being shifted into more expensive rate groups in Orleans County, while the Allegany County community of Cuba also is being reclassified.

The rate groups, which are designed to keep rates comparable with those in other communities of similar size, are based on the number of phone lines that can be reached within a local calling area.

The communities are being reclassified because their residents now have access to enough lines to qualify for the more costly rate group, Lee said.

In some cases, the communities have been big enough to be reclassified into higher rate groups for several years, Lee said. In all, 109 communities statewide are being reclassified into more costly rate groups.

The new rates also will lower the cost of several other features. The cost of touch-tone phone service will decline by 33 percent, while the phone company's time-of-day discounts will increase by 5 percent.

The rates for toll calls within a calling region also will decline by an average of 4.5 percent. That, for example, would reduce the cost of a three-minute call from Buffalo to Olean to 53 cents from 65 cents.

At the same time, though, the phone company received permission to begin charging a 1.5 percent late-payment penalty on overdue bills beginning on May 1.

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