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Paging Service Collapse Leaves Many Hanging

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TIMES STAFF WRITER

The sole provider of a nationwide voice paging service called Pocketalk will abruptly cease operations Friday, leaving as many as 80,000 subscribers without service and rendering their special Motorola paging units useless.

The service provider, privately owned Conxus Communications Inc., gave customers just four days’ notice of the shutdown. The bad news was sent to each subscriber on Monday via voice pager messages.

Conxus, based in Greenville, S.C., sold its portable voicemail service directly as well as through other paging companies in Los Angeles and elsewhere.

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For Motorola, which supplied the wireless technology and the voice paging devices for the Pocketalk service, the demise of Conxus is not a huge blow financially. But the collapse of Conxus continues the spate of bad publicity for the giant Schaumburg, Ill.-based electronics and wireless company.

Two weeks ago, Iridium, a satellite-telecommunications company built on Motorola technology, filed for bankruptcy protection after defaulting on $1.55 billion in loans as losses generated by its 66-satellite global phone network mounted. Motorola is Iridium’s biggest shareholder with an 18% stake.

On Tuesday, Motorola’s customer service representatives were swamped with calls from angry and frustrated Pocketalk customers who were unable to reach Conxus.

Conxus had filed for bankruptcy protection in May, but many in the industry believed the company might be bought or its assets and service salvaged. Instead, Conxus elected to liquidate.

The recorded message Conxus sent to customers--and left on Conxus’ answering machines in Greenville--advises subscribers to call paging companies to arrange for alternate service.

The company’s message says it will not be available to accept calls, faxes or electronic mail. An attorney representing Conxus did not return a phone call.

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Motorola spokesman Ken Countess said, “We had asked the [bankruptcy] trustee to keep the network operating long enough so that the customers could . . . make alternative arrangements.”

In Los Angeles, Dennis Daily is one of the many customers left adrift by Conxus. A recently laid-off longtime employee of UPI radio, Daily sent out more than 200 resumes listing his Pocketalk phone number for potential employers to call.

“This hit me like a ton of bricks,” Daily said. “I labored over that resume, and now I have no idea what my 888 number is going to say come the end of Friday. Is it going to make me look like I can’t pay my bills?”

Customers such as Daily, however, have few options. Conxus holds the phone number used by its subscribers, so any replacement service requires a new phone number. In addition, there are no other companies--except in a very few spots--that provide a voice paging service that will work with the Motorola system used by Conxus.

The Pocketalk service was available in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Washington, Atlanta, Dallas/Ft. Worth, Houston, Chicago and south Florida.

Gary Stephens, an advertising art director in North Hollywood, liked the service so much he bought four more for friends last Christmas.

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“A lot of people have my Pocketalk number,” he said, “and I know I’m going to suffer in terms of revenue in the next few weeks because of this.”

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