Utility Bundles Long-Distance Phone Service

In a move toward diversification, an affiliate of Southern California Gas Co. and San Diego Gas & Electric has begun selling long-distance phone service in the region. Sempra Energy Solutions of Los Angeles, which is hoping its phone services will appeal to loyal energy customers, won't actually be in the phone business. Shamong, N.J.-based Furst Group Inc., which buys long-distance services from such companies as AT&T; and Sprint and then resells it, will acquire lists of Southern California customers and sell the Sempra services through telemarketing. Consumer groups have long predicted that deregulation would blur the lines for utilities, with some energy companies trying to sell new services. "This is the first demonstration of bundling disparate services, like phone and energy," said Michael Shames, executive director of the Utility Consumers Action Network, a San Diego consumer advocacy group. "It makes some sense for the energy companies because there aren't a lot of bells and whistles that they can add to the electrons, and this gives them something else to sell."

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