Originally created 03/01/97

Aiken Internet provider accuses BellSouth of poor service



AIKEN - A local Internet provider has asked the Public Service Commission for a hearing on his complaint that BellSouth is trying to push him out of business by providing poor service.

The complaint was filed Feb. 3 by Doug McClure, owner of SCESCAPE, a service provider in Aiken for customers getting onto the Internet, a world-wide network of computers.

The hearing request is the next step in about a 60-day process to resolve formal complaints made to the commission, said Gary Walsh, executive director of the South Carolina Public Service Commission.

Mr. McClure said Friday he was waiting for a hearing date, and hoped to meet with BellSouth officials to discuss the situation.

"It's a good thing that we have a loyal customer base," he said. "(The phone line trouble) is random. Some days it's hard to get on (the Internet) and others it's fine."

In his complaint, Mr. McClure accused BellSouth of trying to squeeze out smaller Internet providers in the area because the phone company plans to start its own service soon.

BellSouth spokesman Don Caughman said the allegations are nonsense. The problem is whether or not Mr. McClure is willing to spend money to upgrade his equipment, he said.

Mr. Walsh said the phone company responded to the complaint on Feb. 6, suggesting several ways Mr. McClure could improve service to clear up problems with customers getting busy signals or disrupted service.

Meanwhile, Mr. McClure said his company will spend $40,000 to upgrade equipment by April 1. That's about eight months sooner that planned but Mr. McClure said he still wants a hearing to air his grievances against BellSouth.

Before a hearing is scheduled, the public service commission will give Mr. McClure and BellSouth time to submit statements laying out their arguments on the matter, Mr. Walsh said.

Computer owners pay service fees to local Internet providers to make their phone connections to the Internet, a worldwide network of computers.

Currently, BellSouth is the only provider for Internet connections in the Aiken area. But, competition is on the way, Mr. Walsh said.

"AT&T has a petition to compete before us," he said.