Bell Atlantic asks to dial long distance Company has to show it has given up local monopoly

Compliance is questioned

Md. Public Service Commission to inform FCC of its findings

March 15, 1997|By Timothy J. Mullaney | Timothy J. Mullaney,SUN STAFF

Bell Atlantic Corp. began its push for permission to enter the long-distance market in Maryland yesterday, asking state regulators, in effect, to give them a good reference when the Federal Communications Commission begins asking questions this summer.

In a filing to Maryland's Public Service Commission, Bell Atlantic tried to make the case that it has opened the market for local phone service in Maryland to competition. Under the telecommunications deregulation law Congress passed last year, Bell Atlantic has to show it has given up its monopoly on local service before it can be allowed into long-distance.

Ultimately, Bell Atlantic will have to make that case to the FCC, in a filing expected to come in June or July. However, the law calls for the federal regulators to seek the opinions of state officials before making the decision, which Bell Atlantic hopes will let it offer long-distance service by this fall.

"Under the FCC's procedures, the [state] commission must provide its -comments to the FCC approximately 20 days after Bell Atlantic files its application with the FCC," Bell Atlantic-Maryland President Sherry F. Bellamy said. "Bell Atlantic-Maryland is filing this information with the state now in order to give the commission sufficient time to respond to the FCC."

Bellamy contends that letting Bell Atlantic into long-distance will save the average Maryland residential customer $52 a year on long-distance bills by forcing more competition. She contends that more than 92 percent of Maryland households in the Baltimore-Washington corridor are within reach of a potential competitor for local service, a figure she said will grow as cable TV companies and electric utilities enter the local phone business.

But competitors and the state Office of the People's Counsel plan to try to stop Bell Atlantic from being allowed into the long-distance market just yet.

Both said the company still controls more than 99 percent of the local market, and claim that Bell Atlantic has dragged its feet on making -- and living up to -- deals to connect its network to the newcomers' systems so customers of one company can easily talk to customers of another.

Indeed, Bell Atlantic's figures include customers it said AT&T and MCI can reach, even though neither company has yet reached a network-sharing deal with Bell Atlantic. Bell Atlantic is negotiating with both companies.

"On paper, they look pretty good," said Russell Blau, an attorney for MFS/WorldCom Inc., which already has a network-sharing deal with Bell Atlantic. "But when you have to get lines turned on, it's different. I'm not saying it's deliberate, but Bell Atlantic has an obligation. Under the law, it's still not in compliance."

Pub Date: 3/15/97

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