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Baby Bell to Pack an Answering Machine Into Telephones

July 12, 1989

BOSTON (AP) _ New England Telephone Co. is readying a new answering service it hopes will captivate the market, rendering personal answering machines obsolete, but one machine manufacturer says the industry won’t suffer greatly.

The service, which is being tested and introduced by the American Telephone & Telegraph Co. spinoffs called Baby Bells throughout the country, enables subscribers to use only their telephones to answer, record and hold their calls, with the telephone company storing all messages.

Subscribers can leave recorded greetings on the central system and retrieve messages by punching into their push-button phone a seven digit phone number, followed by a personal code of four to 10 digits.

The ″voice messaging″ system can record callers’ messages even if a subscriber’s line is busy, a feature not provided by answering machines. Because of this added capability, company officials believe the new service will be more attractive than machines.

″That’s my wish. Answering services will never become obsolete, because some customers need and desire the personal touch we can’t provide, but yes, this could make machines completely obsolete,″ Anne Kemerer, a product manager for New England Telephone, said Tuesday.

Answering services employ personal operators to take calls, who can then relay different messages to certain callers.

A leading manufacturer of answering machines said it was unlikely they would be edged out by a voice messaging service.

″We feel people don’t want their messages kept in a big computer downtown. Issues of privacy, cost and complexity are viable enough so that it’s not going to be an overwhelming threat to the industry,″ said Jim Oblak, the director of marketing for PhoneMate Inc.

″Yes it will take a certain amount of our business away, but that will be small, with nowhere near the ramifications of kicking us out of the business,″ he said.

New England Telephone, a division of Nynex Corp. of New York, estimates that one-third of its residential and business customers own answering machines.

Kemerer also said that voice messaging was just the beginning of a host of expanded services planned by the company.

Jim Stork, a telecommunications industry analyst for the Chicago consulting firm Duff & Phelps Inc., said the advent of digital networks had enabled ventures such as voice messaging, and predicted an onslaught of new services from telephone companies.

Voice mail is not subject to the strict rate regulation of regular telephone services, and New England Telephone can charge whatever subscribers will pay.

The service costs $6 per month for residential customers, with a one-time activation charge of $12.37. Business subscribers will pay $18.43 up front and $12 a month thereafter.

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