Bell Atlantic set to offer long distance Va. deal with Jones gives firms access to each other's systems

Maryland may be next

Requirements of new federal law prompted agreement

June 04, 1996|By Timothy J. Mullaney | Timothy J. Mullaney,SUN STAFF

Bell Atlantic Corp. yesterday signed what it called a landmark agreement that allows it to enter the long-distance telephone business in Virginia, an agreement that stemmed from the new federal telecommunications law and could herald a similar deal in Maryland.

The Philadelphia-based local telephone service company said it reached a 58-page deal with Jones Telecommunications of Virginia Inc. that allows each company's local telephone customers access to the other's system -- in effect, it sets the terms of how Bell Atlantic's local service will coexist with its competitor on issues such as what happens when a Bell Atlantic customer calls a Jones client.

The new telecommunications law requires regional Bell operating companies like Bell Atlantic to have at least one deal in place with a local service competitor in each state before it can enter the long-distance business in that state, Bell Atlantic spokesman Paul Miller said.

"What we get out of this is, we meet the 14-point checklist [in the federal law] that lets us get into the long-distance business in Virginia," Miller said. "We very much want to be in the long-distance business."

Bell Atlantic and the other Bell operating companies have been barred from the long-distance business ever since they were created under the court-supervised breakup of AT&T Corp.

The regional companies were kept out because of fears that they would use their profitable monopoly of local service to drive long-distance competitors into the ground. But changes in technology and economic theory since led to the telecommunications bill, which is based on the belief that allowing long-distance companies, cable television operators and long-distance carriers into each other's domains will enhance competition and cut costs.

Under the deal with Jones, Bell Atlantic will now be able to compete with AT&T, MCI Communications Corp. and other long-distance providers to carry any long-distance call originating in Virginia -- even if a Bell Atlantic long-distance customer is calling someone outside of Virginia.

Bell Atlantic will not be able to offer

long-distance to Marylanders until it makes a similar deal with a company offering local phone service in Maryland, Miller said. He said Bell Atlantic is negotiating with other companies about a Maryland deal, but declined to say which firms.

"This agreement could perhaps serve as a guide" for the terms of a Maryland deal, he said.

Officials of Jones, which is part of the same company that provides cable television service in Anne Arundel County, could not be reached yesterday afternoon.

The Virginia deal sets basic terms on such issues as how the companies will handle directory assistance and emergency services. Bell Atlantic will handle both services for Jones for a fee. Jones residential customers can also be listed in Bell Atlantic directories for a one-time $5 charge.

The two companies also agreed on how much each will pay the other for completing calls placed by a customer of one company to a customer of the other, and how much former Bell Atlantic customers who switch to Jones for local calling service will pay Bell if they want to keep their old phone numbers.

In another announcement, Bell Atlantic said it filed applications with regulators in Maryland, the District of Columbia and elsewhere for radical cuts in the prices it charges residential customers for Integrated Service Digital Network service.

ISDN is a broadband communications service that melds voice, data, fax and video capability in a single line that operates up to four times faster than a contemporary high-end modem using an ordinary phone line, Bell Atlantic spokeswoman Joan Rasmussen said. Most customers use ISDN on a phone line hooked up to a personal computer.

Launched last year in the residential market, ISDN has 160,000 customers throughout Bell Atlantic's territory, but the vast majority are business users. Rasmussen said target markets for residential customers are Internet fans, on-line service users and telecommuters looking to hook their home PCs up with their companies' computer systems.

The proposed changes reflect both a price cut and a shift toward LTC flat-rate package pricing rather than the per-minute charges Bell Atlantic has charged.

For a customer who uses the service 20 hours a month, the rate application calls for cutting costs to $31 from as much as $56.52 for customers who use ISDN between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m.

Pub Date: 6/04/96

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