New Bell Atlantic Product Redefines Long Distance

New Bell Atlantic Product Redefines Long Distance

Innovative SmartTouchsm Technology Gives Consumers Unprecedented Control of Long Distance Spending at Competitive Rates

May 2, 2000


Eric Rabe,

Maureen Flanagan,

NEW YORK - Bell Atlantic is putting consumers in the driver's seat when it comes to managing their long distance spending.

Today, in the first truly innovative approach to long distance in years, Bell Atlantic introduced a new long distance product called SmartTouchsm. Based on patent-pending technology, SmartTouch gives consumers complete control over their spending at a low flat rate of just eight cents a minute for state-to-state direct-dial calls made from home. With SmartTouch, there are no monthly plan fees, so customers need not worry about unexpected charges appearing on their bills.

SmartTouch customers buy long distance calling time in advance via credit card or cash payment. Customers need never again be bothered with confusing monthly long distance bills. And unlike "10-10" dial around numbers or prepaid calling cards, there are no extra digits to dial when calling from home -- customers simply pick up the phone and place their call.

"SmartTouch underscores our commitment to provide 'surprise-free' long distance," said Maura Breen, president and chief executive officer of Bell Atlantic Communications, Inc., the business unit that provides consumer long distance service. "SmartTouch takes the sting out of monthly phone bills by offering one low flat rate for state-to-state calls, eliminating confusing monthly charges and letting consumers know up front exactly what they are spending for long distance."

The eight-cent-per-minute rate includes all applicable fees, taxes and surcharges except the monthly long distance access fee -- which Bell Atlantic is waiving until July 31 of this year -- so customers can save even more. Bell Atlantic's access fee is $1.47 per month.

Keeping track of calling time and expense is easy with SmartTouch. A voice prompt at the beginning of each long distance call says exactly how much money is in the customer's account and the number of minutes they have for the call. A prompt at the end of the call gives them their remaining balance in dollars. Only the customer can hear the account status information on the call. Customers also can dial "0-0" (zero, zero) from their home phone to get an account balance anytime, day or night.

SmartTouch is available to consumers in New York State and nine states outside Bell Atlantic's service area including Arkansas, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Nevada, Oregon, South Dakota, Texas and Wisconsin. SmartTouch will become available in California on May 8 and in Idaho and Minnesota by mid-May. The company plans to introduce SmartTouch to most other states outside its region by mid-summer. Anyone interested in ordering the service can visit Bell Atlantic's SmartTouch Web site www.getsmarttouch.com or can call toll free 1-800-552-5133.

The new product is the latest long distance innovation from Bell Atlantic. Last week the company announced that 428,000 New York consumers chose Bell Atlantic long distance during the first quarter, putting the company on a fast track to its year-end target of one million customers.

A Telecommunications Tool for the Budget Conscious

SmartTouch makes it easy for customers to manage their monthly phone bill, just like they manage any other household expense. Here's how SmartTouch works: A customer who purchased $10 of calling time in advance places a long distance call from New York to California at eight cents a minute. After dialing the phone number, the SmartTouch voice prompt says there is $10 in their account and two hours and five minutes for the call ($10 divided by .08 cents per minute equals 125 minutes, or two hours and five minutes).

Once the called party hangs up, the voice prompt reports how much money remains in the account for the next call. So in this case, if the call lasted 25 minutes, the customer would have
$8 left.

Customers always know exactly what they are spending for long distance so they can manage their long distance budget with every call. And since subscribers to SmartTouch set their own spending level, they never have to see a monthly bill. SmartTouch money remains in the customer's account until they spend it.

"SmartTouch is where technology, simplicity and personal money matters converge, giving customers a truly novel way to set a monthly long distance budget and stick to it," said Breen. "For international callers, household managers, individuals on a fixed income -- SmartTouch lets you be the boss. You pay what you say."

Bell Atlantic is exploring creative ways to educate consumers about SmartTouch. A key element of the company's strategy is its advertising agreement with iVillage.com, the Internet's leading women's network. As part of the relationship, SmartTouch information will appear in targeted iVillage.com channels that focus on parenting, money matters, working from home and managing debt.

"Featuring SmartTouch on iVillage.com provides value to the millions of women who visit our network each month," said Candice Carpenter, chief executive officer of iVillage.com. "Our audience juggles busy schedules and manages households so is looking for information that helps simplify and enrich their lives. We believe SmartTouch meets that need."

Breakthrough Technology Shatters the Mold

Bell Atlantic collaborated with United States Advanced Networks, an intelligent network designer based in Atlanta, Ga., to develop the SmartTouch IP (Internet Protocol)-based technology for which the patent is pending. SmartTouch gives customers round-the-clock access to their account balance and call activity via www.mysmarttouch.com or by dialing "0-0" from their home phone.

Customers can add more time to their account 24 hours a day via credit card by dialing "0-0" and following the prompts on the voice response unit, or by calling Bell Atlantic customer service at 1-888-599-0107. In addition, New York customers can visit an authorized Bell Atlantic payment center and add time to their SmartTouch account using cash or a credit card. All purchases are posted to the customer's account immediately, so there is no waiting time before making calls.

In coming months, consumers will be able to set up automatic payment to their SmartTouch account on the first of the month or every time the account gets to a certain balance.

"SmartTouch offers limitless applications," said Breen. "Customers can set up a SmartTouch account for kids at college, teenagers, the live-in nanny or for grandparents."

SmartTouch also has a feature which allows customers to place calls "Away From Home," including from a pay phone, by dialing an 800 number and entering their phone number and a secure PIN (personal identification number). These state-to-state direct-dial calls are a flat 25 cents per minute and are deducted from the customer's SmartTouch account just like calls they place from home. But unlike many calling card plans offered by other major long distance companies, SmartTouch does not add a per call service charge to its away from home feature - even if the call is placed from a pay phone.

Attractive International Rates

SmartTouch features competitive international rates as well. The per-minute rates are available anytime, day or night, are not promotional or short term and have no monthly fees. With great rates like eight cents a minute to Canada and the United Kingdom, 23 cents to the Dominican Republic, 26 cents to Brazil and 34 cents to China, SmartTouch is a terrific value for customers who frequently make international calls. And like the domestic rates, SmartTouch international rates include all government-required fees and taxes.

Once again, with SmartTouch, there are no extra digits to dial, so customers who use "10-10" dial around numbers or prepaid cards for international calls can simply pick up the phone and dial "011" and the country code plus the number to make calls at very competitive rates. In fact, SmartTouch rates are priced below AT&T's "One Rate International Value Plan" for the most frequently called countries.

"SmartTouch is more proof of the promise we made to customers four months ago -- to create innovative long distance products and plans that are easy to understand and use and that deliver value to a broad range of customers," said Breen.

Click here for entire SmartTouch press kit.

Bell Atlantic is at the forefront of the new communications and information industry. With more than 44 million telephone access lines and more than 20 million wireless customers worldwide, Bell Atlantic companies are premier providers of advanced wireline voice and data services, market leaders in wireless services and the world's largest publishers of directory information. Bell Atlantic companies are also among the world's largest investors in high-growth global communications markets, with operations and investments in 23 countries.