July 10, 1997
HARRISBURG, Pa. - The Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission (PUC) today made three significant decisions and each was bad news for Pennsylvania and the people who live here, Bell Atlantic charged this afternoon.
The PUC acted in three areas, including pricing for use of the Bell Atlantic network by local phone competitors and two area code issues.
PUC Sets Network Element Rates Below Bell Atlantic Costs
The PUC today set rates for competitors who use parts of the Bell Atlantic network to provide local telephone service. However, the PUC set rates below the level of costs as calculated by Bell Atlantic and submitted to the Commission.
"We're disappointed. This decision does not enable competition, but rather creates a subsidy system for some of the country's wealthiest corporations - companies like MCI and AT&T," Whelan said.
On the other hand, Whelan noted that the decision clears the way for Bell Atlantic to offer long distance service in Pennsylvania, and Bell Atlantic will begin the process of applying to provide long distance as soon as possible.
PUC Adopts Consumer-Unfriendly Solution By Carving Up 412
Under the area code plan adopted for the Pittsburgh area, hundreds of thousands of homes and businesses served by 412 will be forced to change their local phone number. The 724 area code will be assigned to all current and new numbers outside the city of Pittsburgh.
"This approach costs businesses millions of dollars as they change stationery, business cards, and signs - all costs that will be paid by customers," Whelan predicted. "A geographic split is bad for business growth and thwarts the efforts of the Ridge administration to promote economic development in western Pennsylvania."
Recently, after considering the costs of a geographic split, Maryland adopted an alternative that left all existing telephone numbers unchanged.
Whelan added that the Pittsburgh split will force several townships and boroughs to dial 11 digits to complete local calls across the boundary lines of 412 and 724.
The solution is temporary. In time, when another new area code is needed in the Pittsburgh area, the same confusion and cost problems will come up again.
"Transparent Overlay" A Potential Nightmare For Eastern, Central Pennsylvania
Following an eleventh-hour lobbying blitz by the Office of the Consumer Advocate and MCI, the PUC approved a "transparent overlay" as the 215, 610 and 717 area codes exhaust in eastern and central Pennsylvania. This approach disguises the real telephone number in a new area code and substitutes a telephone number from the old code. Telephone company computers would convert the old area code number into the actual telephone number to complete a call.
"The approach is ill considered," said Whelan. "It is probably illegal. It will definitely confuse customers. It is untried, and it is simply risky."
Whelan noted that in some cases, 911 operators and dispatchers would not see the telephone number a customer uses on their screens in a transparent overlay. Instead, 911 centers would see the real number in the telephone company system. "Everyone knows seconds count in an emergency," Whelan said. "This solution, advanced by MCI, could present a series of confusing scenarios for 911 operators."
Bell Atlantic also warned that transparent overlays could affect cellular phone calls and Caller ID displays. A different number also would show up on customer bills, puzzling millions of customers.
"This is a last minute proposal formulated by people who were afraid of adding three simple digits to their local calls," Whelan said. "This scenario only reinforces Bell Atlantic's initial point: that the transition to 10-digit local dialing for everyone now is the least confusing, most convenient solution for customers in 215, 610 and 717."
Bell Atlantic Corp. (NYSE: BEL) is at the forefront of the new communications, entertainment and information industry. In the mid-Atlantic region, the company's telephone company subsidiaries are the premier providers of local telecommunications and advanced services. Globally, it is one of the largest investors in the high-growth wireless communication marketplace. Bell Atlantic also owns a substantial interest in Telecom Corporation of New Zealand and is actively developing high-growth national and international business opportunities in all phases of the industry.