Md. orders phone rate cut for neighbors split by zone

Calls between people across the line incur long-distance charge

August 05, 1999|By Mark Ribbing | Mark Ribbing,SUN STAFF

The Maryland Public Service Commission has ordered lower phone rates for callers who pay long-distance fees to call their neighbors.

Maryland, like other states, is divided into sections that determine whether a phone call is local or long-distance. Calls made within a section are local, while calls from one section to another incur long-distance charges.

In a densely populated state such as Maryland, those boundaries will sometimes mean that people who live right next to each other are unable to call each other at local rates.

Currently, customers who wish to reach a neighboring calling area without paying long-distance charges must pay a $14.50 monthly charge.

The PSC, in an order written by Chief Hearing Examiner O. Ray Bourland III and issued Friday, accepted, with some modifications, a proposal that this fee be reduced to $2 per month in areas where such calling is particularly heavy.

The joint proposal was made by the commission's staff and by Bell Atlantic Corp., the state's dominant local telephone-service provider.

The proposed order will go into effect Aug. 31 unless it is appealed.

"I think it's a great order, if it does indeed carry through," said Mark Koehler, a telecommunications consultant from New Market in Frederick County who has called for reforms of the current system.

"You have people right next to each other, and it's not a local call. I think it's rather stupid," Koehler said.

Bell Atlantic spokeswoman Sandra Arnette said her company would raise phone rates by 4 cents for customers statewide in order to recoup the revenue that would be lost under the proposed order.

Arnette said Bell Atlantic has not yet decided whether to appeal the order.

"We're just trying to see what additional information has been requested, so we can provide what Judge Bourland has required," Arnette said.

Pub Date: 8/05/99

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