New O.C. PacBell Center to Help Customers Switch


Pacific Bell, much criticized for foot-dragging in allowing other companies into its local telephone markets, said Wednesday that it has created a regional center in Anaheim where 700 people will work to switch consumers to rivals.

For customers, it brings closer the day when competition for local service is like the cutthroat long-distance market, in which hundreds of companies nationally are vying for business.

For Anaheim, the new jobs will increase the tax base by $11.2 million annually, officials said. The 700 employees will work in a PacBell building near Anaheim City Hall in an area where the company already has more than 2,300 workers.


Local providers such as PacBell are being allowed to enter the potentially lucrative long-distance markets--but only on the condition that they first allow competition in their local bases.

As a result, competitors are buying phone time from PacBell at a discount and trying to resell local service to individual customers under their own brand names. But for the past six months, many have accused PacBell of intentionally snarling the transfers, discouraging customers from choosing rivals.

In announcing the new regional center to process the switch-overs, PacBell sought to defuse its critics.

“We have every incentive to make this work,” said Bob Ferguson, regional president for Southern California. “The sooner we get this working, the quicker we can get into long distance.”

The new Anaheim center will supplement a 200-employee operation in San Francisco that had been fielding all of the transfer requests. Already, 95 workers are performing the new jobs in Anaheim.

Most of the new jobs will go to previously laid-off PacBell employees or to workers at the company who transfer for better pay or because their homes are nearby.


For Anaheim, there nevertheless will be a tremendous economic boost to local businesses, with a “ripple effect” far beyond, Mayor Tom Daly said.

The new center is expected to be fully operational by August, PacBell spokeswoman Linda Bonniksen said.


Pacific Bell officials insist they are processing orders as fast as they can and say any problems were inadvertent. They contend their rivals are complaining to delay PacBell’s entry into the lucrative long-distance market.

So far, PacBell says, it has lost only about 80,000 customers, less than 1% of its total.

Competitors reacted coolly to Wednesday’s announcement. “Promises, promises,” said Jim Lewis, MCI Communications Corp.’s western regional executive. “We’ll just have to wait and see” if access actually improves.

MCI fired the first salvo of criticism at PacBell in December, accusing the company of a “calculated campaign of delay and discrimination” in a 30-page filing with the Public Utilities Commission in San Francisco.

MCI told regulators that PacBell customer service agents gave out false information about MCI’s local Home Phone Service and that about 20 customers lost their dial tones altogether when they asked to be switched to MCI.


The company recently stopped taking most new orders for local service because it said PacBell couldn’t process the orders efficiently.

AT&T; and Sprint Corp. followed with similar complaints that were aired at a PUC hearing in May. The commissioners have yet to issue a proposed decision.

Then this month, Caltech International Telecom Corp. of Walnut Creek filed a $25-million antitrust lawsuit accusing PacBell of illegally maintaining its monopoly in local access.

PUC spokeswoman Diane Dienstein said PacBell, in setting up the new center, appears to be trying to speed up its processing of customers’ requests.

“But it’s one thing to say you’re hiring people,” she said. “The proof will be in what happens now, how quickly they can actually satisfy customer demand.”

PacBell said it hopes to convince regulators by the end of the year that it has sufficiently opened up the local market to competitors.


It then plans to apply to the Federal Communications Commission for permission to provide long-distance service to Californians.

So far the only local phone company to seek such FCC approval is Southwestern Bell, which wants to provide long-distance service in Oklahoma. PacBell and Southwestern Bell are both subsidiaries of SBC Communications Inc. in San Antonio.

Times staff writer Karen Kaplan contributed to this report.