- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 1, 2000

The cost of paying your telephone bill may be going up 33 cents.

About 500,000 AT&T; Corp. customers in Maryland are getting a separate bill this month and will have to write a separate check and use another stamp to pay for long-distance service.

Bell Atlantic Corp., which sells local-calling service from Maine to Virginia, had included charges for AT&T;'s long-distance customers in Maryland in its statements.

But AT&T; has decided to begin sending its long-distance bill separately because it considers Bell Atlantic a competitor.

"It doesn't make any sense for us to bill through a vendor who is also a competitor," AT&T; spokesman Candace Humphrey said.

About 500,000 AT&T; customers in Maryland are receiving separate bills this month, though the company has more customers than that in the state. AT&T; declined to indicate how many customers it has in Maryland.

About 800,000 AT&T; customers in Virginia and 50,000 customers in the District of Columbia began receiving separate bills for AT&T;'s long-distance service on April 1.

"We're not doing it for all customers. We're doing it where it makes economic sense," Mrs. Humphrey said.

AT&T;'s decision to stop including its own charges with local-calling statements from Bell Atlantic came as a surprise, Bell Atlantic spokeswoman Sandra Arnette said.

AT&T; customers can go back to the old way and have local and long-distance charges consolidated on a single bill. They simply have to notify AT&T;, Mrs. Humphrey said.

But AT&T; says a single bill for AT&T; services long-distance, wireless, and, in some states, local calling helps them market their services to customers more effectively than if they piggyback on Bell Atlantic's statement.

That's the same motive behind Worldcom's decision to offer separate billing, a decision it made more than a decade ago, Worldcom spokesman Charlie Sutlive said.

"When you bill directly, you have more opportunity to tell customers about your programs," Mr. Sutlive said.

AT&T; declined to say how much it will cost the company to produce its own bills.

Bell Atlantic declined to disclose the billing fee it passes on to long-distance companies when it includes those charges in their statement.

Bell Atlantic includes long-distance charges in its own statements for about 40 companies, like Sprint Corp. and Worldcom.

So far, AT&T; and Bell Atlantic are competing just in New York, where Bell Atlantic began marketing long-distance service in January. It has 468,000 long-distance customers there.

AT&T; began selling local-calling service in New York in January, and it has 350,000 customers.

The companies will compete on other fronts. AT&T; plans to ask regulatory bodies in Maryland, Virginia and the District to let it offer local-calling service in those three regions, but hasn't established when it will make those requests, Mrs. Humphrey said.

Bell Atlantic plans to ask for approval to offer long-distance calling in Maryland by early next year, Mrs. Arnette said.

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide