Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Local Phone Competition Put on Hold

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Local Phone Competition Put on Hold

Article excerpt

ATLANTA -- Consumers looking to local phone-service competition for lower prices might as well get used to listening to cheesy music because they're likely to be on hold for some time.

A Times-Union analysis of performance-measurement figures submitted to the Georgia Public Service Commission shows that BellSouth doesn't process some orders for repairs and conversions to its resale customers as quickly as regulators and competitors expect.

By many measures, BellSouth gives essentially the same speed and quality of service to its resale customers -- those who buy the service from other phone companies -- as it does to its own retail phone users. But because of the lag in processing many types of orders, at least two of the biggest potential competitors, MCI WorldCom and AT&T, have shelved plans to market local service in Georgia.

During April, for example, BellSouth got 206,000 orders from companies that resell its services. Only 32 percent of the orders were processed mechanically, and the rest required BellSouth technicians to sort out manually.

Half the orders were submitted on paper, many handwritten, by competing phone companies that aren't geared up to connect with BellSouth's intricate software. About 26 percent of those submitted via computer still had to be processed manually because BellSouth's automated system couldn't handle them.

BellSouth representatives say they're trying hard to improve order processing. They also blame inexperienced resellers with sending faulty orders.

"It takes a long time to learn this business. We didn't learn it overnight, and some of the [competitive local exchange carriers] coming into the business are starting to realize that," said Ronald Pate, director of BellSouth interconnection services.

According to the April report, when problems occurred on the phone lines, 24 percent of the residential resale customers had a repeat of the trouble within 30 days while just 19 percent of BellSouth's retail customers got a second dose. …

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