Originally created 06/20/00

BellSouth smothers competition



In reading Walter Jones' coverage of local phone service choice in Georgia ("Few know of choice, poll finds," June 9), I'm afraid your readers are left with the wrong impression.

Mr. Jones reports that "more than 160 companies offer local phone service in Georgia." As co-chair of Georgians Calling for Competition (GCC), a non-profit coalition devoted to increasing local phone competition in the state, I only wish that were true.

Sadly, Augusta area consumers can choose from only two companies for their residential local phone service. Augusta businesses have a little more local phone service choice - but the number is nine, not the 160 Mr. Jones reports.

To be sure, hundreds of companies are interested in offering local phone service in Georgia, but are reluctant to do so because of problems they face with BellSouth opening up its monopoly market to competitors as required by law.

The Georgia Public Service Commission (PSC) is aware of these difficulties and has ordered BellSouth to test its systems to ensure customers can switch their local phone service provider as easily as they do their long distance company.

It is not easy for a new company to compete against an incumbent provider - especially when that provider maintains its monopoly control. BellSouth claims it has opened its local phone service market, but the facts show it still controls more than 95 percent of Georgia consumers' local phone lines.

I believe Georgians will see real choice in local phone service - but not until BellSouth does its part to make competition feasible. Results of the PSC-ordered tests will go a long way in letting us know how close we are. Maybe then we can boast about the number of choices we have.

William Perry, Atlanta