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Phone deal to expand business lines

May 18, 1999|By LAURA ERNDE

Competition for local phone service that was promised by the 1996 Telecommunications Act is becoming a reality in the Tri-State area, at least for business customers.

Bell Atlantic and UniDial Communications announced a deal Tuesday that will open at least 200,000 business lines to competition in Bell Atlantic's 13-state region, which includes Maryland, Pennsylvania and West Virginia.

Under the deal, valued at $300 million, Bell Atlantic will allow UniDial to resell its lines to business customers.

Bell Atlantic is increasing the wholesale discount to UniDial, a savings the company plans to pass on to customers, said UniDial spokeswoman Susan Gosselin.

The discount will be increased by 10 percent the first year, 13 percent the second year and 15 percent during each of the following three years.

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In return, UniDial has agreed to use Bell Atlantic's network for regional toll calls, the long-distance charges that show up on a customer's local phone bill.

It is the largest-ever resale contract signed by Bell Atlantic and a wholesale customer.

To date, Bell Atlantic has sold 725,000 lines to about 100 companies that resell telephone service to their own customers.

Most of the competition has opened up on business lines, said Bell Atlantic spokeswoman Maureen Flanagan.

The New York City-based company owns 43 million telephone lines from Maine to Virginia.

"Bell Atlantic is very serious about the local resale business. We intend to be a leading wholesale provider," Flanagan said.

UniDial, based in Louisville, Ky., offers telecommunications services to 80,000 small- and medium-sized business customers.

"We've built our business on the idea that customers want a truly integrated product set for local, long distance and data services. Local service is an essential piece of the puzzle to truly be a one-stop shop for our customers," J. Sherman Henderson III, UniDial's president and chief executive officer, said in a press release.

Ernie Kelly, president of the Telecommunications Resellers Association, said the agreement demonstrates Bell Atlantic's increased commitment to the local resale business.

"I urge other regional Bell companies and GTE to follow Bell Atlantic's lead by taking the wholesale business more seriously and opening their local markets to competition," Kelly said.

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