Monopolies lose control TELECOMMUNICATIONS

January 01, 1995|By Michael Dresser | Michael Dresser,Sun Staff Writer

If Marylanders listen closely this year, they should be able to hear the faint sound of telecommunications monopolies crumbling.

It won't be the crash of giants being toppled that you hear, but a steady chipping-away. Bell Atlantic Corp. is not going to lose a significant percentage of its business market share this calendar year. And chances are that if you're paying Company X for cable service in January, you'll still be paying the same company in December.

But 1995 will be the year when the regulatory decisions of 1994 and previous years begin to take their toll on the incumbents in telephone and cable services.

Consider the local telephone market. For now, Bell Atlantic is the only show in town for local telephone service, business or residential. This year, that will change for business customers as MFS Communications, MCI Metro and probably Teleport Communications Group launch competitive services.

The new competitive terrain in Maryland telephone service was landscaped by the state Public Service Commission, whose decision to give MFS permission to compete in Maryland on an equal basis with Bell Atlantic opened the floodgates. That move turned once-sleepy Maryland into one of the three or four most wide-open markets in the country for telephone competition. Watch for more entrants in 1995.

The path to customer choice is likely to have its bumps. SBC Communications, formerly Southwestern Bell, seemed hot to offer residential telephone system through its Montgomery County cable system when it asked the PSC for the green light in May. But by November its ardor had cooled, and the company effectively asked the commission to delay consideration of its application until next summer.

Still, Bell Atlantic is expecting to give ground in the home as well as the office. An internal company document shows that it is projecting a 20-percent loss in its urban residential market share and a 10-percent loss in the suburbs by the year 2000.

For the cable TV industry, 1995 will bring an intensification of the challenge from the skies. Direct broadcast satellite (DBS) technology, which came to the state in October, had only a limited impact on cable in 1994 because of high prices and a limited supply of the 18-inch dishes. But this year, with supplies expected to increase and prices expected to drop, DBS could make deep inroads among viewers who dislike their cable companies.

There might be a consolation for cable this year. Bell Atlantic, which announced ambitious plans for offering video services last spring, has seen its plans for a 1995 commercial launch grow fainter amid regulatory delays and technological uncertainties. Maryland cable companies, at least those in the Baltimore area, will probably not see much land-based competition before 1996.

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