With the flick of a switch at 12:01 a.m. Friday, about 44,000 telephone customers in Fullerton will have easy and "equal access" to the lines of nine long-distance service companies--not just those of AT&T.; Under equal access, which made its Orange County debut last month in Westminster and continues its march through the county, long-distance calling on any of the competing services will be a simple matter of dialing 1, the area code and phone number.
Although the process sounds simple enough, until now only AT&T; customers had it so easy. Customers of other long-distance companies, such as MCI Telecommunications or GTE Sprint Communications Corp., had to dial a string of access numbers, sometimes as many as 22, to tap into the long-distance lines.
Equal access has been called the best consumer benefit of the breakup of the Bell System because it allows customers an easier way to tap into long-distance services that are often substantially less expensive than those offered by AT&T.;
At a press conference Tuesday, the companies gaining equal access in Fullerton this week advised customers to study their calling patterns and then ask the competing companies for their rates.
"The customer can save money, but the choice is up to them," said Jerry Wilson, a representative of Allnet Communication Services, the nation's third largest alternative long-distance company. "They have to take the time to figure out what's best for them."
In equal-access areas, the alternative long-distance services notify the local phone company (Pacific Bell or General Telephone) of their new subscribers. The local phone company then programs the customers' phone lines to allow billing by the alternative company.
In addition to AT&T;, Fullerton will be served by Allnet, GTE Sprint, MCI Telecommunications, Satellite Business Systems, U.S. Telephone Inc. and Com Systems Inc. Each of the companies has sent its brochures to potential customers, a process that will be repeated as equal access continues to be introduced throughout Orange County this year.
Service to Expand
According to Pacific Bell, most of Orange County will have equal-access dialing by the end of 1985. The service is scheduled to be introduced in Yorba Linda next month. Santa Ana, Orange, San Juan Capistrano, Costa Mesa, Anaheim, El Toro, Corona del Mar, Buena Park and San Clemente will follow throughout the remainder of the year.
Despite the potential savings to customers from switching, an AT&T; spokesman said Tuesday that the giant communications firm has managed to keep more than two-thirds of the customers where equal access has been introduced. The service made its national debut last July 15 in Charleston, W. Va.
In large part, AT&T;'s large market share is attributed to the fact that customers in equal-access areas must make a conscious decision to switch their long-distance service to an AT&T; competitor. If no choice is made, the customer automatically is served by AT&T.; However, that automatic "default" to AT&T; has been challenged and the Federal Communications Commission has agreed to conduct hearings on the matter later this year.