MFS asks to sell local phone service to homes Bell Atlantic challenger now serves businesses

September 25, 1996|By Timothy J. Mullaney | Timothy J. Mullaney,SUN STAFF

In another move toward eroding Bell Atlantic Corp.'s hold on local phone service in Maryland, MFS Communications Co. is asking state regulators for permission to sell local service to residential customers, in addition to the business callers MFS usually serves.

In a meeting today, Maryland's Public Service Commission is expected to consider the upstart carrier's application to expand from serving a small number of major customers to being eligible to serve consumers statewide.

The application is part of a flurry of new competition sparked, in part, by the telecommunications reform law Congress approved Feb. 1. In a sign of the way proponents hope deregulation will cut prices, MFS' plan calls for consumers to pay $27.40 a month for a souped-up service, including call waiting and seven other options, that now costs more than $30 monthly to buy from Bell Atlantic.

But details of the MFS application have drawn significant opposition, and even MFS says approval wouldn't mean major overnight changes for telephone consumers.

"Short term, it's to allow us to keep our options open," said Gary Ball, MFS' director of regulatory affairs for the eastern United States. "We don't have immediate plans to do direct sales or marketing efforts. We're not a mass-market company."

MFS is opposed by Bell Atlantic and by the Maryland People's Counsel office, which represents consumer interests before the PSC. Neither has any problem with the idea of MFS offering residential service, officials of each organization said, but each has different complaints about the details.

Bell Atlantic contends that it's not fair to allow MFS to sell long-distance service and local service as a single package, because Bell Atlantic is not yet allowed to sell long-distance service in Maryland. The state's traditional phone carrier will be allowed to enter the long-distance business once it proves it has opened the local service market to other competitors, under standards in the new federal telecommunications law.

The People's Counsel objects because it says MFS' proposal competes only for more affluent customers who want features like call waiting, call forwarding and conference calling. The plan does not allow any discount for customers who ask MFS to exclude the extras from their phone service, Assistant People's Counsel John D. Sayles said.

Without the extra features, Bell Atlantic's local service costs only $16 to $17 a month, Sayles wrote the commission.

Pub Date: 9/25/96

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