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'Tis the Season for Another AT&T Folly
Long-Distance Scrooge Complains Once More about Access
December 10, 1999
BACKGROUND - Yesterday, AT&T filed a complaint with the
Maryland Public Service Commission (PSC), accusing Bell Atlantic of
overcharging long-distance companies for completing calls over its local
phone network. Over the past several years, Bell Atlantic has reduced
access fees dramatically in Maryland and across the country, yet AT&T
has failed to pass along these savings to all of its customers. The
following response should be attributed to Sherry F. Bellamy, president
and CEO of Bell Atlantic - Maryland.
"Santa Claus is going to leave a large lump of coal in AT&T's
stocking this year for its latest baseless tantrum directed at Bell Atlantic.
This long-distance Scrooge is singing the same tired song about access
charges in Maryland and across the country.
"Local companies don't set access charges -- federal and state
regulators do. In setting these rates, regulators take into account complex
cost factors and public policy issues, including the need to keep local
telephone rates low for all consumers.
"AT&T is shamelessly creating a smokescreen to help it come up
with the $100 billion it needs to buy cable giants TCI and MediaOne,
IBM's global network operations and Canadian phone company,
"This is a familiar story: Bell Atlantic has cut access fees $37
million a year in Maryland. Long-distance companies like AT&T vow to
pass these savings along to their customers, but many long-distance
customers never see a dime. In fact, only days before its filing, AT&T
sent letters to thousands of its customers informing them that they are
required to pay a 'monthly usage minimum' of $3 'even if no calls are
made.' As a result, most customers continue to subsidize long-distance
companies' plans that benefit large businesses and high-volume residential
"AT&T's recent actions have hit small customers the hardest. This
fee -- plus the so-called 'universal service' charges imposed by AT&T,
mean that residential customers pay $60 and small businesses $84 each
year, just for the privilege of being an AT&T customer -- even if they
don't make a single long-distance call.
AT&T Chairman Michael Armstrong made his intent clear when he said:
"I'm not going to be interested in the $2 customers."