Ma Bell may again have your number A new deja vu?: State PSC reaffirms its pro-competition policy for home phone customers.

January 24, 1996

RESIDENTIAL TELEPHONE consumers in Maryland may expect to see a new form of local and long-distance service in the near future that could have a decidedly old-time appearance.

The state Public Service Commission recently gave permission for AT&T Corp., formerly everyone's Ma Bell, to provide local phone service for home and business customers. AT&T already sells long-distance service here.

Until the federal breakup of AT&T more than a decade ago, the monopoly provided all services to customers in Maryland. It's another twist in the ever-changing sphere of telecommunications competition, one that this time could really help the residential user.

While AT&T still has to clear several regulatory hurdles before it can actually offer home phone service, the state PSC has made it clear with this decision that the panel considers competition for residential telephone lines in the public interest.

A leader in forcing telecommunications competition in the local market, the commission opened up business service to competitors with Bell Atlantic Corp., the local provider monopoly, in 1994. Competition has expanded in that sector through subsequent agency rulings.

A month ago, the PSC took another major step in setting low rates for competitors to connect with Bell Atlantic's local network and to be listed in its white pages and data bases.

Significant issues must be decided by the PSC before consumers benefit from competition for home phone service. They include the cost and method of "portability" of existing phone numbers when using a competing service. Also at issue are Bell Atlantic's wholesale rates, which competitors such as AT&T would pay and then resell services at a markup to subscribers. (Eventually, AT&T plans to build its own network, but initially will be a reseller.)

Meanwhile, Bell Atlantic hopes to compete with AT&T as a long-distance carrier, and is said to be seeking a merger with another regional phone company to expand its base.

While approving AT&T's certification, the Maryland Public Service Commission is not brushing aside controversial, critical details that will determine the extent of residential competition. But its pro-competitive policy has a welcome ring for customers.

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