Bell Atlantic's disappointment brief

MULTIMEDIA & COMMUNICATIONS

March 16, 1994|By Michael Dresser | Michael Dresser,Sun Staff Writer

Frederick d'Alessio, Bell Atlantic's main man in Maryland, said it took a few days to recover from the disappointment when the company's gamble on buying the nation's largest cable TV company came up snake eyes.

But in a recent interview, the president of Bell Atlantic-Maryland sounded anything but despondent about the demise of the Tele-Communications Inc. deal last month. He seemed to be coping rather well, in fact.

"We're working right now on other possibilities," he said. "You can be sure other things are in the works."

Mr. D'Alessio emphasized that while the merger deal was scuttled, Bell Atlantic's ambitious plans for building up its "full service network" in Maryland were cruising ahead. The company's plans to introduce movies-by-phone technology -- known as video on demand to those fluent in tele-speak -- in the Washington suburbs late this year remain on track, he said. Baltimore couch potatoes will begin to see the technology deployed next year, he added.

The loss of TCI will mean that Bell Atlantic won't get the huge discounts its almost-partner gets on programming, Mr. d'Alessio said. Never mind, he said, "we'll find other sources."

Baltimore might actually benefit from lagging in the race to the full service network. Where the Virginia and Montgomery County networks are getting a form of video compression technology that will deliver 1.5 megabits of information over the phone lines, the Baltimore area probably will get the next generation of technology, a hybrid of fiber-optic and coaxial cable that will deliver 3 to 6 megabits over its lines. More megabits translates into better picture quality.

Mr. D'Alessio also stated that Bell Atlantic would carry out its part of the joint initiative that it and TCI announced in January. Under that plan, Bell Atlantic would extend advanced phone connections to all the public schools in its service area.

In the interim, Mr. D'Alessio said, Bell Atlantic will extend a transitional technology called ISDN (integrated services digital network) to every home in the state within two months. ISDN isn't able to handle high-quality full-motion video now, but its 144 kilobit bandwidth is more than adequate for desktop videoconferencing and high-speed data transfers -- technologies that could speed the trend toward telecommuting. He added that Bell Atlantic was considering the introduction of a residential rate for ISDN, which now is available only at business rates.

"With all this snow, more and more people are talking about the advantages of telecommuting," he said.

That effort would be welcome soon, because Bell Atlantic's current effort to market ISDN is hardly impressive. The potential telecommuter who wants a video link to the home office faces a series of hurdles in getting service.

A call to the residential service line got a salesperson who responded to an inquiry by saying: "What do you mean, ASDN?" The business service line quickly connected a caller to a special ISDN line, but the caller had to get price information from two separate numbers. And it went downhill from there.

"I guess we've got to do a better job of telling the customer what's up," said Bell Atlantic spokesman Dave Pacholczyk.

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