FCC Asked to Look at Equal-Access Service
Four telephone companies asked the Federal Communications Commission on Monday to look at problems they say hamper competition with AT&T; for long-distance customers, complaining that deregulation of the telephone business may be occurring too fast.
Albert Halprin, chief of the FCC’s common carrier bureau, said the FCC staff will treat the petition “as the priority matter that it is” and start the inquiry process “within days.”
(An expedited rule-making procedure requires 30 days for public comment and 15 more days for replies before the staff drafts a document for consideration by the commissioners.)
The equal-access conversion process, which is about 25% complete, is expected to be about 35% complete by Sept. 1.
Under it, all long-distance services must be able to obtain the same quality local connections as only AT&T; Communications previously enjoyed--the ability to obtain long distance without dialing a finger-numbing list of numbers.
The joint petition was filed on behalf of GTE Sprint, Allnet Communication Services, US Telecom and United States Transmission Systems.
The four complained that the FCC’s goal “seems to have shifted to a desire to deregulate and to do so without regard to whether market forces are available to replicate the role which government regulation traditionally has played.”
They argued that American Telephone & Telegraph has the names, phone numbers and long-distance calling patterns of almost all the nation’s phone customers--information that is, for the most part, unavailable to the other carriers. The companies asked the FCC to order AT&T; to share usage data so they can more effectively offer their services to potential customers. Mel Goodman, president of Allnet, called it “a unique endowment of customer information” that allows AT&T; to target marketing and services.
The four carriers asked the commission to halt the transition to equal-access service until an entire city can be converted, enabling them to market their services more effectively.
They also want equal access delayed until efficient switching mechanisms are installed to reduce the number of lines the companies must install--and pay for--or grant the long-distance companies a discount on those connections.
“No subsidy or protection is being requested,” a GTE spokesman said. “We are asking for preservation of competition.”
Herb Linnen, an AT&T; spokesman in Washington, conceded that the company maintains the information concerning its customers, who represent the vast majority of telephone users, but called the data “proprietary.”