Phone Users Must Choose How They'll Reach Out

Times Staff Writer

In the two years since the breakup of the American Telephone & Telegraph Co., people have gotten used to buying phones at department stores, installing wall jacks themselves and getting 10-page phone bills.

Now the 143,500 General Telephone Co. customers in the South Bay are facing another change. They are being asked to choose a long-distance telephone company.

"Until recently, long distance calls were made through AT&T; by dialing 1, then the area code and phone number," said Linda Krengel, General Telephone spokeswoman. "If a consumer used an independent long distance company, they would have to dial an access system code, identification code, then the area code and phone number."

Under the new system, known as "equal access," customers can use the simpler dialing system for any of a number of companies. After General Telephone makes the initial connection, the long distance carrier will process the calls by cable, microwave and satellite.

"Equal access eliminates excessive digit dialing," Krengel said. "Consumers will be able to use independent long distance companies by just dialing '1' then the area code and number."

General Telephone customers in Torrance, Lawndale and Redondo Beach who have telephone numbers beginning with 214, 370, 371 or 542 should have received information packets describing listing the long-distance companies serving their areas. Customers have 45 days to make their selection and return their ballots. Those who fail to respond will be randomly assigned to a carrier.

Krengel said at least half of the company's territory in the South Bay is scheduled for conversion by the end of the year, and said company-wide conversion for the entire state will be completed by 1990.

Pacific Bell Telephone Co., the state's largest local system, began its conversion process two years ago and introduced some South Bay residents to it in April, 1985. Spokesman Larry Mobbs said that at least 324,000 South Bay households are using equal access and that 40% of Pacific Bell customers in Los Angeles County have converted to the new system.

Krengel said General Telephone and Pacific Bell are required by law to alert customers of the changes and provide basic information regarding long distance companies that have been approved by the California Public Utility Commission to serve their area. It is up to customers, however, to contact the carriers to arrange for conversion or to obtain rates and service information.

Eligible General Telephone customers have until Feb. 12 to make their selections from the following long distance carriers: USTelecom; GTE Sprint; S.B.S. Skyline; ITT Long Distance Service; MCI Direct Dial Long Distance Service; ALLNET Dial "1" Service and AT&T; Long Distance. General Telephone provides a work sheet with a series subjects to ask approved carriers about, such as possible installation fees, monthly service charges, minimum monthly charges, dialing restrictions, use of carrier credit cards, operator assistance and consumer service.

"Consumers shouldn't make their decision by a carrier's rate," said Mobbs of Pacific Bell. "In order to have the service that's right for your household, consumers must consider service location availability, billing methods, use of credit cards and operator assistance," he said. In addition, some companies charge by the minute while others charge by increments as small as six seconds.

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