Bell Atlantic Asks to Offer Long-Distance in Five States
WASHINGTON (AP) _ Bell Atlantic Corp., the first of the Baby Bells to jump into the long-distance fray, is seeking to provide the service in five states, the company said Tuesday.
The action comes less than a week after President Clinton signed legislation overhauling the nation’s telecommunications laws and letting local and long-distance phone companies and cable companies into each others’ businesses.
Bell Atlantic filed applications to provide service in North and South Carolina, Florida, Illinois and Texas _ states in which it does not provide local phone service. Those applications must be approved by state regulators.
The company said the action is the beginning of a larger plan to provide long-distance service nationwide.
Shirley Risoldi, a Bell Atlantic spokeswoman, expected regulatory approval in all the states and predicted the phone company would be providing service by the end of June.
``Welcome to the fray,″ said AT&T spokesman Herb Linnen. Sprint spokeswoman Sydney Shaw said: ``They’re (Bell Atlantic) going to learn a lot.″
Risoldi said the applications are for service throughout the five states, but Bell Atlantic would be marketing in specific communities, which she declined to identify.
The company plans to market service to both residential and business customers.
BellSouth and Southwestern Bell Telephone Co., which provide local phone service to some of the states Bell Atlantic is targeting, contend that Bell Atlantic will face considerable obstacles in reaching new customers.
``You’ve got to know your customer″ and Bell Atantic doesn’t in Florida or the Carolinas, said BellSouth spokesman John Schneidawind.
``We believe we understand our customers’ needs better than a company based 1,500 miles away in Philadelphia,″ said Paul Dusseault, spokesman for Southwestern Bell’s parent, SBC Communications Inc.
BellSouth provides local phone service in North and South Carolina and Florida and intends to provide long-distance service only to its local phone customers.
However, Ameritech spokeswoman Sheryl Watkins said, ``We welcome the competitive alternative to the cozy long-distance cartel.″
Ameritech is still awaiting regulatory approval to offer long-distance service to its customers in Chicago and Grand Rapids, Mich., which it sought before enactment of the new telecommunications law. Ameritech officials say they don’t know whether or how the new law will affect those requests. It is also considering offering long-distance outside its local phone territory, Watkins said.
To provide service, Bell Atlantic plans to buy long-distance service from a company that owns its telecommunications network _ for instance, AT&T, MCI and Sprint _ at a wholesale rate and re-sell long-distance service to consumers and businesses at retail rates, Bell Atlantic said.
Bell Atlantic is negotiating such an agreement and plans to have one to announce in a couple of weeks, Risoldi said.
Risoldi wouldn’t say how much Bell Atlantic plans to invest in its long-distance venture in the five states. But analysts have said it will easily run into the millions.
Bell Atlantic selected the five states because the phone company’s ``name is known or will be known there″ and they are located nearby states in which Bell Atlantic provides local phone service, Risoldi said.
Bell Atlantic has 12 million customers receiving local phone service in New Jersey, New Delaware, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia and the District of Columbia.
For now, the company plans to provide regular long-distance service in the five states it wants to enter, but over time it intends to provide customers with one-stop shopping, including cellular, local phone and cable services.
MCI declined comment.
BellSouth serves Florida, North and South Carolina, Ameritech serves Illinois and Southwestern Bell serves Texas.