AT&T; to Bill Some Users Directly

Times Wire Services

AT&T; Corp. is quietly moving to bypass local phone companies to bill consumers directly for long-distance services in anticipation of the day it will go toe-to-toe with the Baby Bells. AT&T; in January will start billing customers for long-distance services in GTE Corp. local service areas in Florida, Texas and California. It made the change known on Dec. 5, issuing statements in the areas to be affected. Industry experts said the move, if implemented nationwide, could mean significant savings for AT&T;, which pays hundreds of millions of dollars to the Baby Bells and other local phone companies such as GTE to include long-distance charges on their customers' bills.

More important, experts said, the move deprives regional phone companies of a vital source of information on calling patterns, which would make it harder for the regional companies to select AT&T; customers to recruit for any Baby Bell long-distance service.

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