Bell's N.J. unit to test news, data via phone

June 30, 1994|By Michael Dresser | Michael Dresser,Sun Staff Writer

Bell Atlantic Corp. said yesterday that its New Jersey operating subsidiary will launch a 90-day technical trial of a service that delivers news and information by telephone to callers who dial 211.

The test, scheduled for the fourth quarter of this year, could be a precursor of similar services in Maryland and other states in the Philadelphia-based company's service region.

The trial will involve about 10 information providers, including some of the state's larger newspapers, Bell Atlantic said. The service could involve a variety of information, from sports scores to musical excerpts to stock quotes, delivered in either audio or fax form.

The trial will be free to callers and providers during the test period. If it becomes permanent, Bell Atlantic will charge providers for access to the gateway, and providers could charge callers for their services.

Many newspapers and other information providers already offer telephone services, but this trial involves a relatively new class of service known as "N11 numbers." These new services let callers obtain information by dialing an easily remembered three-digit number, such as 211 or 711. Initially, the service will be available in northern New Jersey's 201 and 908 area codes.

Bell Atlantic said that because only five N11 numbers are available in New Jersey, it asked information providers who are interested in using the service to take part in a joint test.

During the test, Bell Atlantic will provide the "gateway" for the information providers. The gateway concept is the company's preferred manner for introducing N11 services, said Bell Atlantic-New Jersey spokesman James W. Carrigan.

In Maryland, Bell Atlantic is seeking approval to offer gateway N11 service as the sole conduit for other providers. Its application is being contested by the Baltimore Sun Co. and the Washington Post Co., which are seeking their own N11 numbers, said Frank Fulton, spokesman for the state Public Service Commission.

The PSC staff has sided with the Post Co. and the Sun Co., but the decision is up to the commissioners, Mr. Fulton said. A proposed order is expected next month or in August.

Bell Atlantic has a similar application pending in Virginia, and Pennsylvania is conducting an informal inquiry into such services, a company spokeswoman said.

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