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ISPs get busy signal at Pac Bell

Several California Internet service providers are griping about connection delays from Pacific Bell.

Several California Internet service providers are griping about the time it takes for them to get connections from Pacific Bell, the local phone company.

"The question is, will we be allowed to compete?" said David Holub, CEO of Whole Earth Networks, a San Francisco Internet access provider. He reports delays of 8 to 15 weeks to get a high-speed T1 line installed.

Alan Mutter, chairman and CEO of Best Internet Communications, said it can take 8 to 12 weeks for Pacific Bell to link a new Best customer to Best's network, up from four weeks in the late spring. He questions whether Pacific Bell's own Internet access service faces similar delays.

But officials at Pacific Bell Internet Services, which began offering consumer Internet access in May, said his unit faces longer delays than independent ISPs.

"Based on federally required reports, the intervals [delays] that Pacific Bell Internet Services is experiencing are longer than the ISPs are getting," said spokesman David Miller. He said Pacific Bell is required to offer those services without favoring its own entity.

"In this case, it has more to do with workload and demand and nothing to do with desire and intent," Miller said of the delays. No information is available at present on whether backlogs are growing, shrinking or staying steady.

He noted, however, that California will add 700,000 to 800,000 new lines in 1996, compared to 500,000 lines in previous boom years.

Richard Fish of the California Public Utilities Commission, the state regulatory agency, said he is aware of only one specific complaint about delays in an Internet service provider getting lines installed, but that complaint has not been formally submitted.

Although some ISPs suggest Pacific Bell may be giving preference to its wholly-owned subsidiary over other Internet service providers, other factors may also be at work. Telecommunications traffic is booming in California, with new area codes being announced regularly. Also, Pac Bell has reduced its staff, and the phone network was designed for voice, not data communications.

"Pacific Bell and the competitive access providers are scrambling, "said Hank Nothhaft, CEO of ISP Concentric Network "I don't think the industry could absorb much more growth than now," Nothhaft says Concentric isn't having problems with Pacific Bell in California.

When an Internet service wants to add a high-speed line, it must rely on the local phone company to run the new line from the phone company's central facility to the ISP's data center. If the line is for an outside customer, that customer also must be connected.

None of the ISPs have alleged directly that Pac Bell is showing favoritism toward its own unit, largely because they don't know how much of a backlog Pacific Bell Internet Services is experiencing. Miller, the Pac Bell Internet spokesman, said those figures were not immediately available.

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