Chesapeake & Potomac Telephone Co. of Maryland does not have the technology to provide blocking service for Caller ID subscribers and will ask the Public Service Commission to reconsider its order that such a service be implemented, a C&P spokeswoman said.
The commission yesterday ordered C&P to offer callers a free code that would allow them to keep their numbers private when dialing those equipped with Caller ID, a service that displays the caller's number.
While Caller ID has been marketed as a way to prevent harassing telephone calls, it is viewed with alarm by privacy advocates, especially those who work with victims of domestic violence.
Jeanine Smetana, a C&P spokeswoman, said while the telephone company is waiting for the PSC to reconsider its order, it will start paperwork and research that would be necessary to offer call-blocking.
"It's still not going to be a quick process," she said. "We have not done a lot of background or research."
C&P contends that call-blocking in effect would render Caller ID useless as a weapon against harassing telephone calls, as long as the caller remembered to use the blocking code,Smetana said.
But advocates of the change were thrilled about the order, although C&P's plan to ask for a reconsideration tempered their celebration.
"We're happy, but it hasn't been settled absolutely," said Judy Wolfe of the House of Ruth, a local shelter for abused women.
And Judy Feldt, president of the Maryland Network Against Domestic Violence, said: "We're really excited about what the commission had to say."
Feldt said she thought the fact the order was a compromise -- her group wanted a device that could block identification of all calls going out from a single line -- means it has a good chance of surviving C&P's challenge.
The commission order, C&P must provide a two- or three-digit number to those who do not want their numbers displayed when they dial a subscriber to the Caller ID service. Dialing the code will cause the display unit on the receiving end to show either "PRIVATE" or "P" rather than showing a phone number.
Promoting Caller ID as a way to thwart harassing calls, C&P has signed up more than 34,000 subscribers since Caller ID was introduced in August 1989.
The subscriber pays a monthly fee to C&P for the service.