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AT&T Accuses PacBell of Deception

CALIFORNIA | SOUTHLAND FOCUS

December 22, 1999|(Hector Becerra)

AT&T filed a complaint with the state Public Utilities Commission, accusing SBC Communications Inc.'s Pacific Bell division of using deceptive tactics to lure back local toll customers it had lost to AT&T. Under a Federal Communications Commission ruling that took effect in May, local phone companies must offer customers the option of pre-selecting a rival carrier for local toll calls--those that generally cover distances greater than 12 miles but do not qualify as long distance. Before that ruling, PacBell automatically handled such calls unless the caller first dialed seven extra digits.

Some 50,000 to 80,000 AT&T customers were affected by PacBell's tactics, AT&T spokeswoman Genny Hom-Franzen said. The long-distance giant contends that SBC/PacBell switched AT&T customers back to PacBell without informed consent, intimidated others by leading them to believe their phone service would be disconnected, and tried to charge AT&T for switch-back costs. Hom-Franzen said PacBell sent letters to former customers that tricked them into calling a sales/marketing number instead of a "customer care" number where concerns could be voiced.

A spokesman for PacBell called AT&T's complaint "kind of amusing" given allegations against long-distance carriers of "slamming," or switching people's phone service carrier without their permission. "The long-distance industry, AT&T and MCI [WorldCom] in particular, have a long record of customer abuse," said PacBell spokesman Steve Getzug. There are 13 million local toll customers in California who average 85 minutes a month in toll calls. These callers represent $72.8 million a month in revenue for phone companies.

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