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PacBell Campaigning Riles Regulators

Pacific Bell’s push to enter the long-distance phone market--and the long-distance companies’ move to stop it until there is more local competition--has taken on the feel of a political campaign.

Californians have been barraged with advertisements, and community groups ranging from chambers of commerce to senior citizen organizations have been asked to take sides in the complex battle.

But this campaigning has riled state regulators, who are scheduled to issue an advisory ruling on PacBell’s long-distance application by the end of the year.

In an unusual step, the state Public Utilities Commission recently issued a news release stressing that its decision will be made based on PacBell’s compliance with the federal 14-point checklist, not public opinion.

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“Whether Pacific, whose parent company is Southwestern Bell Corp., can enter the long-distance market . . . is not a matter of who gets the most consumer votes; federal law decides,” the PUC said.

Although the statement doesn’t point fingers, PacBell has been the most visible in these activities, which have included widespread solicitation for letters of support from groups throughout the state.

“This is not an ad campaign,” PUC spokesman Armando Rendon said. “So [the letters and calls] are kind of irrelevant.”

PacBell remains undeterred. Last week, the company issued a news release boasting that more than 140 chambers of commerce, business councils and other economic groups have passed resolutions or sent the PUC letters supporting PacBell’s long-distance application.

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But it’s the regulators and their staff who will review 16,500 pages of material on the issue. And to them, the checklist is what counts.

That checklist, which includes a number of arcane measures, is aimed at verifying that competitors have the same chance to win customers in the local phone market as do PacBell and other incumbent phone companies.


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