The move is a significant step forward in Bell Atlantic's own bid to enter the long distance voice markets. Regulators and competitors have complained that the Baby Bells have made it difficult to connect to their electronic operating systems, thereby stalling the transfer of telephone customers.
If the new link between Allegiance and Bell Atlantic proves successful, and is adopted by other smaller competitors, it could help convince regulators that Bell Atlantic has effectively opened its markets to competition. This would allow the company to offer long distance service in its home territory, along the East coast.
"This is a key part in our drive to enter the long distance market," said Maureen Flanagan, a Bell Atlantic spokesman. "This clearly supports the fact that we have opened our markets to our competitors."
The two companies said today that they have successfully combined their electronic operating systems, allowing Allegiance to enter orders to switch Bell Atlantic customers online.
Previously these operations had been done manually, with an exchange of faxes between the two companies. Under the old system, it often takes up to 20 days to switch a customer's service, said Allegiance regional vice president Larry Price.
A Bell Atlantic spokesperson contested that estimate, however, saying that most customer switches were accomplished in less than 5 days. Under the new electronic system, the changeover will usually take between 5 to 7 days, Price said.
The system is built using standard industry protocols that can be replicated by any Bell Atlantic competitor, and could be replicated by other Bell companies elsewhere in the country, the companies said.
Several other rivals are in the testing phase of building operating systems that can talk to Bell Atlantic's system, the company said. Flanagan said that the Bell Atlantic system has been ready to operate for close to a year, but Allegiance was the first competitor to make use of the new interface.
New York regulators are currently in the process of testing the Bell company's operating system to make sure that it can handle close to 200 kinds of transactions from competitors like Allegiance.
If the state Public Service Commission give the system the green light, and the Allegiance trial works, analysts say it is likely that federal regulators will look favorably on the company's efforts to enter long distance later this year.