Open short-distance toll calls to freer competition, AT&T asks Battle continues with Bell Atlantic


August 11, 1998|By M. William Salganik | M. William Salganik,SUN STAFF

AT&T announced yesterday that it is asking the Maryland Public Service Commission to open up short-distance toll calls to freer competition.

The action continues a battle between AT&T and Bell Atlantic Corp. as each seeks to claim a piece of the other's market.

In a petition filed last week with the PSC, AT&T Communications of Maryland Inc. said Maryland consumers "are being denied lower prices and new service selections" by the lack of short distance toll competition.

At issue is how calls are handled within four regions of the state, called local access and transport areas, or LATAs. Currently, toll calls within a LATA, such as from Baltimore to Ocean City, are handled by Bell Atlantic unless the customer first dials an access code with seven or more digits.

Calls between LATAs, such as from Cumberland to Ocean City, are treated like any other long-distance call. A customer preselects a carrier, such as AT&T, MCI or Sprint. Bell Atlantic is not in the long-distance market but wants to enter it.

Last year, the PSC said customers would be able to preselect short-distance toll carriers the way they do long-distance companies, said Geoff Waldeau, a regulatory economist with the agency. That decision will take effect Feb. 8 or when Bell Atlantic is approved for long-distance service, he said. Such an action was required by the federal Telecommunications Act of 1996, Waldeau said.

In its petition, AT&T charges that Bell Atlantic "recently announced it has no intention of abiding by the [Telecommunications] Act or [the PSC's] orders." It asks the PSC to direct Bell Atlantic to comply.

Bell Atlantic has a different interpretation of the Telecommunications Act and the previous PSC order.

"This is not a new issue," said John Gilbert, manager of regulatory affairs for Bell Atlantic-Maryland. He said AT&T has raised the issue three times in the past five years and that each time the PSC has said Bell Atlantic doesn't have to open up short-distance toll calls until it can enter the long-distance market.

"It's a matter of fairness, plain and simple," Gilbert said.

Bell Atlantic may not receive approval to enter the long-distance market in Maryland until after Feb. 8, said Sandra Arnette, a company spokeswoman.

Candace Humphrey, a spokeswoman for AT&T, said other states, including Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware and West Virginia, have opened up competition for short-distance toll calls.

Pub Date: 8/11/98

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