State Backs SBCs Latest Bid

    LANSING — State regulators have again backed SBC Communications Inc.’s bid to enter the long-distance telephone market in Michigan.

    The Michigan Public Service Commission, in a report filed Tuesday with the Federal Communications Commission, said “with even greater confidence than its first report on the subject” that SBC meets all federal requirements to provide long-distance service in Michigan. The MPSC recommended that the FCC approve SBC’s application.

    “This report demonstrates that SBC has continued to improve and has met the requirements for long distance authorization,” MPSC Chairman Laura Chappelle said. “All of the pieces are now in place for the FCC to grant SBC’s long distance application. It’s certain that Michigan phone customers will benefit greatly from more long distance competition.”

    SBC re-filed its latest long-distance application with the FCC last month, two months after withdrawing a bid when federal regulators raised concerns over errors and delays in billing competing local phone providers that lease space on SBC’s telecommunications system and sell a competing service to residential and business customers.

    Local service competitors vehemently oppose the bid, citing persistent problems with wholesale billing that obstructs emerging competition in Michigan.

    The MPSC supported SBC’s previous bid and, in the latest endorsement, cited “overwhelming evidence that the competitive market is thriving in Michigan.” Under federal law, the so-called Baby Bells holding monopoly positions in a state must open their previously exclusive markets to competition in order to receive federal approval to enter the long-distance arena.

    Some 26 percent of SBC’s 4.8 million phone lines in Michigan are now leased by competing local exchange carriers, according to a recent MPSC report on the state of telecommunications competition.

    On the service and billing concerns raised in SBC’s previous application, the MPSC said it believes that SBC’s processes and procedures are “adequate to support its long distance application.”

    The opinion of state public service commissions is part of the FCC’s standard procedure in reviewing long distance applications from the Baby Bells. The FCC has until Sept. 17 to rule on SBC’s request.

    SBC anticipates it will finally win approval to offer long distance in Michigan, after four previous unsuccessful bids. The latest application meets “every test set forth” in federal law for the Baby Bells to enter state long-distance markets, said Robin Gleason, vice president of regulatory affairs for Texas-based SBC’s Michigan operations.

    “We are confident in our application, which addresses the issues the FCC had wanted clarified,” Gleason said.           

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