WASHINGTON — A study commissioned by American Telephone & Telegraph has found that more than 80% of the people surveyed would prefer to have their long-distance service automatically remain with AT&T if they do not select another company to handle such calls.
AT&T's long-distance competitors have complained to the Federal Communications Commission that the communications giant has an unfair advantage because, in most areas where "equal access" plans are going into effect, it automatically retains customers who do not specify another long-distance company.
AT&T's study, submitted late last week to the FCC, represented part of its effort to persuade the commission not to force it to relinquish a larger share of the lucrative long-distance market.
The breakup of AT&T mandated that local Bell telephone companies offer customers access to competing long-distance companies on an equal basis. Customers may choose which phone company--AT&T or one its competitors, such as MCI, Sprint and Allnet--will handle long-distance calls dialed by "1" followed by the area code and number.
Customers can notify their local phone company or the long-distance company of their choice. Where no choice is specified, long-distance traffic generally remains with AT&T.
However, Omaha-based Northwestern Bell, which serves Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska and the Dakotas, decided on another system. When equal access came to Minneapolis last year, the company decided to distribute customers who did not choose a primary carrier among the competing companies. If, for example, 20% designated a particular carrier, that company would also receive a 20% share of the customers who failed to make a choice.
The FCC is reviewing this approach as well as alternatives, including blocking long-distance calls if no company is specified. In its comments to the FCC, AT&T called these mechanisms "unnecessary and undesirable" because they "disrupt or modify the service arrangements of millions of customers without their knowledge or consent."
"The purpose of this process is to give customers a choice, not to reallocate market share among the various long-distance companies," said Larry Garfinkel, AT&T vice president of communications.