SBC Gets Long Distance OK

    SBC Communications Inc. hopes to begin offering long-distance telephone service in Michigan this spring, following action by state regulators to support the telecommunications company’s plan.

    The Michigan Public Service Commission last week endorsed SBC’s application to offer long-distance service. SBC followed up that endorsement days later with an application to the Federal Communications Commission seeking approval to enter the long-distance market in Michigan, as it has in several other states.

    “SBC is looking forward to bringing consumers what they demand — value and the convenience of getting local service, custom features, and long distance calling from one company on the same bill,” said Gail Torreano, SBC’s president in Michigan.

    The FCC has 90 days to act on SBC’s request.

    SBC’s move has been opposed by other long-distance providers, most notably AT&T, that contend SBC has not met the quality and service standards to begin providing long-distance service.

    “SBC has refused to invest in Michigan in the past, giving us poor repair times and making it difficult for customers to leave the SBC system for competitors,” said Greg Boyd, executive director of Michigan Alliance for Competitive Telecommunications, a group that consists of telecom and business interests.

    “By ignoring the proven failures of SBC’s existing systems and signing off on the company’s long distance request, the Michigan commission is giving up on getting Michigan’s telecommunications infrastructure up to the status of the rest of the nation,” Boyd said.

    SBC cites support it garnered for the application from other business groups around the state and asserts that data shows it does meet standards outlined in the 1996 federal Telecommunications Act for entering the long-distance market.

    Among the standards is concluding that competition now exists in Michigan for local telephone services. SBC says local service competitors now use its network to provide 1.9 million residential and business phone lines statewide.

    “This landmark decision signals that Michigan consumers truly have competitive choices for local phone services and very soon will gain greater choice for long distance and bundled services,” said Laura Chappelle, chairman of the Michigan Public Service Commission.

    But SBC’s competitors say that competition may not remain for long. SBC is seeking a major increase in what it charges local service competitors to access its network, and the FCC is weighing a change in rules governing how those wholesale rates are set. Competitors say those changes, if allowed, would ruin competition for local telephone services.

    The Public Service Commission’s endorsement of SBC’s long-distance application is predicated on the continuation of FCC’s current policies and rules “and our commission’s commitment to continue to meet our responsibilities to promote and encourage competitive markets,” Commissioner Robert Nelson said.

    In a related order, the MPSC directed SBC to file a compliance and improvement plan by Feb. 13 to address “issues that have been identified as needing further attention” in its service and quality.           

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