Originally created 09/14/99

Local consumers miss benefits



A grass-roots organization trying to increase competition in the local phone business says consumers need to start getting more vocal.

Georgia must make choice in local phone service a key issue in order to reap the benefits of competition, an official for the group said Monday during a speaking engagement at the Richmond County Senior Citizens Center.

"As we've seen in other areas, where there's more choices, the prices go down," William Perry, co-chairman of Georgians Calling For Competition, said.

The Atlanta-based group was founded earlier this year by former Savannah Mayor Susan Weiner to educate consumers about the Telecommunications Act of 1996.

The legislation was enacted to help companies compete for local phone service against the "Baby Bells" to allow their entry into the long-distance market.

But more than three years later, no state has declared effective local service competition.

In Georgia, 115 companies have been state-certified to sell local service, but monopoly provider BellSouth still has 97 percent of the market.

State regulators suspect it's difficult for competitors to access and communicate with BellSouth's operational systems. The Georgia Public Service Commission has ordered BellSouth to perform a third-party test of its systems to determine how it can make access easier.

Georgians Calling For Competition, which has a Web site, said it wants to become a consumer resource for phone regulation in the same way that consumerforce.com has become a resource for natural gas customers.

Reach Damon Cline at (706) 823-3486.