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AT&T files complaint against Bell Atlantic with FCC

The telecommunications giant files a formal complaint with federal regulators alleging that its newly created long distance rival is illegally courting customers.

Telecommunications giant AT&T filed a formal complaint today with federal regulators alleging that its newly created long distance rival is illegally courting customers in the highly competitive market.

In the complaint filed with the Federal Communications Commission, AT&T says Bell Atlantic markets its service to customers inquiring about long-distance alternatives, which AT&T alleges is a violation of current telecommunications laws.

Bell Atlantic was granted the right to offer long distance service in New York in December. Bell Atlantic and GTE closed their multibillion-dollar merger last month. The combined company is now called Verizon Communications.

The battle between AT&T and Bell Atlantic is hardly new. The two communications giants compete in many markets and routinely scrutinize one another by publicly calling attention to alleged regulatory missteps.

Bell Atlantic spokesman Eric Rabe said AT&T's complaint is an attempt by the company to fault the Baby Bell for AT&T's long distance losses.

"They're losing a lot of customers, and they need to have somebody to blame," he said.

Local phone giants such as Bell Atlantic, SBC Communications and other Baby Bells were forbidden from offering long distance until certain competitive requirements were met. Some of those requirements include informing potential customers that they have a right to choose their own long distance provider.

Such squabbles aren't see related story: FCC decision could pit Bells against AT&T just about long distance. Many companies hope to use discounted voice services to entice consumers into using a package of higher-cost services such as Internet access, wireless, or cable television.

AT&T is a good example of this strategy. The telecommunications giant has been hit by rapidly falling profits in its core long distance business, even as the company tried to boost revenue by introducing other advanced services.

In an effort to recoup lost profits, AT&T recently announced a new long distance pricing plan that has drawn criticism from regulators and consumer groups alike.

According to a private survey commissioned by AT&T, Bell Atlantic customer service representatives were said to have frequently mentioned only Bell Atlantic's long distance voice service to callers seeking information about long distance services. AT&T is seeking damages and is calling to bar Bell Atlantic from marketing its long distance service to "inbound" callers.

Bell Atlantic representatives said the company is aggressively marketing long distance service, but strictly according to FCC specifications.

"Our procedures fully comply with what the FCC wants us to do," Rabe said.

Bell Atlantic ended the first quarter with 428,000 long distance customers in New York, after beginning service in mid-January. The company plans to service more than 1 million consumers in New York by the end of the year.

Meanwhile, Bell Atlantic is seeking permission to offer long distance services elsewhere in its territory and is close to gaining approval in Connecticut, Massachusetts and Pennsylvania.