Originally created 08/02/96

AT&T could offer local service by year's end



AT&T could offer local
service by year's end

By John Mills
Staff Writer
Web-posted August 1, 1996

Long-distance carrier AT&T could be offering local telephone service in competition with BellSouth before the end of the year, the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission said Thursday.

AT&T and BellSouth will have agreements to connect their systems, which will allow the long-distance carrier to begin offering local telephone service in Georgia and other states, no later than Dec. 4, said Reed Hundt, FCC chairman.

The date is set based on a time frame triggered when the companies applied for arbitration of their agreements.

On Thursday, the FCC voted on regulations for implementing local competition, which executives of long-distance carriers said set ground rules for competition, but that Baby Bell companies called micro-management.

"Following the FCC's meeting today, we are now concerned that the terms and conditions the commission has laid out may impede the process to competitive markets and seriously restrict state commission latitude," said F. Duane Ackerman, vice chairman and chief operating officer for BellSouth Corp.

But states could override the FCC's price ceilings and guidelines if the proper procedure is followed in a public forum, he said.

FCC rules decided Thursday would not automatically invalidate interconnection agreements between local carriers and long-distance companies, but parties to those agreements probably should be allowed to renegotiate in the wake of the 700-page decision, he said.

Asked whether it was excessive when the Georgia Public Service Commission's unanimously ordered BellSouth to give rivals discounts as deep as 20 percent, Mr. Hundt said the FCC's concern is to make sure that definitions in the law are interpreted consistently among states, not to meddle in price determination.

"We have talked to the Georgia commissioners and made clear to them that if they have any doubts about it, they should just get in touch with us. They can file a petition for a clarification or a ruling if they have any doubts about it and we'll figure it out together," he said.

"I don't think it's a problem. If they use the definition we've now said is the correct definition, then they've got the answer in Georgia, and that's all there is to it."

The state PSC's 5-0 decision in May shocked and angered BellSouth, which said the rates went beyond the PSC's staff's own recommendations, and were nearly double BellSouth's own suggestion. BellSouth said it will appeal that decision, and has taken the FCC to court, seeking to overturn its requirement that BellSouth give competitors call-forwarding service for free.