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Published: Wednesday, 6/12/2002

AT&T breaks up Ameritech's hold on local service


For the first time, competition arrived in the local residential telephone service market in Toledo as AT&T Corp. began yesterday trying to lure away customers of SBC Ameritech.

“Consumers finally have a choice,” said AT&T spokesman Mike Pruyn as the carrier began signing up homeowners and renters with expectations of starting service within five days.

Until now, customers of Ameritech, the primary local phone-service provider in metro Toledo, had no choice.

AT&T also revealed rates that, while higher than Ameritech for bare-bones service, will probably prove attractive to customers who want added features. The firm's best basic plan, including a $3.95 fee for long-distance calling, is $18.95. Customers get to make unlimited local calls and long distance calls for 7 cents a minute.

That's about $4 more than the $14.25 - not including taxes - charged by Ameritech for unlimited local calls. But Ameritech does not yet offer long-distance service, and customers sometimes pay an added flat fee to a long-distance provider.

The AT&T basic rate includes a strong incentive to buy long distance service from the firm. Customers who choose another carrier will pay $24 for unlimited local calling.

Both firms charge about $30 for unlimited local calls with a package of added services such as caller ID, call waiting, three-way calling, and call forwarding. Ameritech customers pay $30.20 for caller ID and three extras. AT&T will charge $29 for caller ID and two extras. AT&T is offering a discounted price for a year for people signing up for extra services in the first several weeks.

Consumer advocates have hailed the arrival of competition. But not all customers were as enthusiastic.

Julie Riley, a Toledo real-estate agent, expressed weariness with corporate mergers, name changes, and other moves in the telephone industry in recent years. “It's so confusing, I really don't want to deal with it,” she said. “I work full-time and have three kids. I don't have time to shop. Unless they make it really convenient for me to switch, I'm not interested.”

Still, Ameritech recognizes many customers will make the change.

The firm, which has competition for residential service in pockets of Ohio, expects competitors to make “dramatic” inroads into its market share now that AT&T has begun offering local phone service in most of the state, said Greg Connel, an SBC spokesman.

The introduction of competition for local service should remove regulatory obstacles to Ameritech's application to begin offering long distance service, he added.

Business customers in many parts of the state, including the Toledo area, have had several providers from which to pick. But most homeowners and renters statewide have had no choice until recently. Other phone carriers have indicated they may soon start offering service in Ohio.

Not affected by the AT&T local service are northwest Ohio residents served by Verizon Communications and carriers other than Ameritech.

AT&T has signed up 100,000 residential customers in Michigan since introducing local service there in February, according to that firm's spokesman.

In Ohio, calls started coming in yesterday morning, soon after the firm began signing up customers. “We've been very encouraged,” said Mr. Pruyn.

Customers service numbers for the firms are 1-888-876-2920 for AT&T and 1-800-660-1000 for Ameritech

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