Teligent to Unplug Some Services


Bankrupt Teligent Inc., a once-promising wireless communications provider, plans to cut off service June 25 to customers in selected regions across the country, including Orange County, San Diego and San Jose.

The Vienna, Va.-based company notified affected customers in a letter sent in late May, leaving an unknown number of Teligent's 35,000 business users scrambling to line up new carriers for local phone service and Internet access.

The company's service disconnections are the latest in a string of abrupt retreats by carriers trying to compete in the local phone and data markets.

One of the biggest failures involved NorthPoint Communications, which went bankrupt, then disappeared altogether earlier this year, leaving about 100,000 business customers in the lurch.

Teligent, which filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection May 21, has not announced the planned disconnections.

"We are curtailing certain services in some of our markets," said Teligent spokeswoman Tita Thompson, who would not name the markets. She said the company is still serving Los Angeles and is maintaining its equipment in Orange County. She would not provide additional details.

Daniel Vanetti, president of San Diego-based Web, has been a Teligent customer for a year, receiving local and long-distance phone service, along with toll-free business lines from the company. All but the long-distance access will disappear in 10 days.

"I didn't know how much time it takes to switch over a local carrier. . . . Now I'm rushing to get that done," said Vanetti, whose Web design and hosting firm buys high-speed data lines from WorldCom and WinStar Communications, which is also in bankruptcy.

"I'm trying to avoid losing phone service. But if that's what's going to happen, it's going to happen. . . . I can't start my own phone company and get it going myself," he added.

Across the country, telecommunications agents and consultants have been getting panicked calls from Teligent customers on the verge of being unplugged.

"They're all asking us what to do," said David Roberts of Teligistics Inc., a Houston-based telecommunications consulting firm. "They're all wanting to go back to their incumbent [local phone company]. . . . They're scared to death of [the upstart competitive carriers]."

Teligent provided customers with about a month's notice about the planned disconnection. But Roberts said that's not enough time.

"Some of them are going to lose some of their services. . . . They're definitely going to have some service interruption."

Teligent has lost nearly $2 billion in the last five years and reported that it had $1.65 billion in debt when it filed for bankruptcy. The company's stock, delisted from Nasdaq last week, closed up 4 cents at 37 cents on the Pink Sheets on Wednesday.

The service cutbacks are part of Teligent's effort to reduce expenses and "move forward to create a profitable core business," Thompson said.

A former Teligent employee said the company is probably disconnecting customers in regions where Teligent does not own a communications switch, which makes it more expensive to provide service.

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