NEW YORK — A majority of Americans believe that telephone service has neither improved nor declined in the two years since the breakup of Ma Bell, but they are optimistic that improvements will occur, according to a Media General-Associated Press poll.
The nationwide telephone poll of 1,462 adults found that about two-thirds believed that the quality of local and long-distance service was the same as before the breakup.
Nevertheless, 52% said they thought the quality of telephone service would improve during the next 10 years. Only 18% believed that it would decline, while 17% said it would stay the same. The rest were unsure.
Despite the optimism, there was little public support for the breakup of American Telephone & Telegraph, which created seven regional telephone companies and threw open the door to long-distance competition. Only one-quarter of the respondents thought the breakup was a good idea.
Six in 10 respondents said they felt they were paying more for telephone service now than they did before the AT&T breakup in January, 1984. Three percent said they thought prices declined, and 28% said they thought prices remained the same. The rest were unsure.
Three-quarters of the respondents said they still used AT&T for long-distance calls. The nearest competitors were MCI with 6% and GTE-Sprint with 5%.
Seven in 10 AT&T customers reported no change in the quality of long-distance service since the breakup, while only half of MCI and GTE customers said quality was the same.
Customers of the new telephone companies were more than twice as likely as AT&T customers to say that service had improved since the breakup. On the other hand, 19% of MCI customers and 16% of GTE customers said service had declined, compared with 11% of AT&T customers who reported deteriorating service.
The Bell System was broken up as part of the settlement of a Justice Department antitrust suit against AT&T. In that split, AT&T retained its long-distance operations and communications equipment business while spinning off its local Bell phone companies.
To help foster long-distance competition, telephone customers are being asked to choose either AT&T or one of the new companies. If they refuse to choose, customers will be assigned a company. This so-called equal access process is about half completed.
Only 34% of the respondents had chosen a long-distance company when the poll was conducted in November. Among those who had yet to choose, 35% said they intended to do so and 20% said they would take whatever company was assigned to them.
- Two in 10 respondents said they had considered canceling their telephone service because of the cost.
- Fifty-three percent bought and 35% rented their telephones, while 11% owned some of their phones and rented others. Most people--89%--said they were satisfied with the telephones.
Respondents in the Media General-Associated Press poll, held Nov. 8-14, included a random, scientific sampling of 1,462 adults across the country.