Federal regulators Wednesday unanimously approved BellSouth's bid to offer long-distance service in Georgia and Louisiana, opening the company up to what analysts estimate to be a $4 billion market.
The Federal Communication Commission ruled that BellSouth has adequately opened the two states' telecommunication markets to competition as defined by federal guidelines established in 1996.
BellSouth is allowed to offer bundled packages of voice and data and local and long-distance services. The plans are developed and ready to be unveiled. The company will announce its pricing, launch an advertising campaign and start taking orders May 24.
"The prospects of us being back in the long-distance business is good for us, good for our shareholders and good for our customers," said BellSouth Georgia President Phil Jacobs. "The plans we have put together show a commitment to simplicity. We're not going to confuse anyone with our pricing - they'll be straightforward, attractive and aggressive plans."
To ensure the market stays competitive, the Georgia Public Services Commission will enforce more than 2,200 quality service requirements that could result in up to $320 million a year in fines if BellSouth provides substandard service to companies leasing space on its network.
Some BellSouth competitors are still wary, though.
"AT&T has been competing against BellSouth for local customers since 1998, and we continue to see strong customer demand for alternatives to BellSouth," AT&T said in a prepared statement. "And don't think BellSouth isn't aware of that. That's why they've left no stone unturned in obstructing, limiting and frustrating competitors."
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