Originally created 03/06/02

AT&T will challenge BellSouth



ATLANTA - AT&T Corp. said Tuesday it will begin offering local residential phone service in most of Georgia, including urban and suburban areas of Augusta.

The move makes AT&T the second major phone company to roll out residential service in Georgia, the home of BellSouth Corp., which controls more than 90 percent of the residential market.

AT&T will offer the service in 72 markets covering about 70 percent of Georgians, although it will be available only as part of other calling packages that include long-distance service.

Previously, the company sold local service in Georgia only to businesses and to cable customers in metro Atlanta. AT&T also markets local phone service in Michigan, New York and Texas.

AT&T will offer the service in Augusta, Appling, Harlem and Hephzibah, but not Thomson, Waynesboro or Wrens.

"We're really looking forward to offering Georgia consumers the convenience of dealing with one company for local and long-distance service," said Phil Tonge, the president of local markets for AT&T Consumer, based in Basking Ridge, N.J.

MCI began selling residential phone service in Georgia's metro areas in June. Several other telecommunications companies market local phone service to business customers, but have been reluctant to court the residential market because of lower profit margins.

Under the 1996 Telecommunications Act, long-distance companies are allowed to enter the Bell monopolies' local markets.

BellSouth has asked federal regulators to allow it to sell long-distance service in Georgia and Louisiana, and the company is expected to expand into the other seven Southeastern states it serves. Bell companies will be able to sell long-distance after they prove they have opened their markets to local service by competitors.

BellSouth spokesman Joe Chandler said AT&T's announcement is "additional evidence that the local telephone markets in Georgia are wide open to competition."

Mr. Tonge said BellSouth's long-distance bid played no role in AT&T's schedule for local service.