MCI said Wednesday that it will offer a nationwide alternative to AT&T;'s toll-free 800 service early next year.
American Telephone & Telegraph, which introduced the service in 1967, has a virtual lock on the $4-billion-a-year market. However, changes in local telephone switching systems make the complicated computerized call-routing technology available to AT&T;'s competitors.
In its announcement, MCI said it would provide customers with some refinements not available from AT&T;, including detailed billing, volume discounts for small and large customers, and a pricing scheme more distance-sensitive than AT&T;'s.
MCI said it will also be able to provide a single 800 number for in-state and out-of-state calls. An AT&T; spokesman said his company will soon ask for permission to offer that service as well.
Until more sophisticated computer programs are in place, only AT&T; has the technology to offer subscribers a choice of numbers, such as those which allow customers to advertise a number that spells out a message or name.
A federal court has ruled that AT&T; need not make that technology available to its competitors.