Quickly seizing upon the freedoms it won in a new telecommunications law, Bell Atlantic Corp. announced yesterday that it has taken the first formal step toward realizing its long-frustrated ambition of becoming a nationwide long-distance carrier.
The Philadelphia-based telecommunications company said it has filed applications to provide long-distance service in five states outside its core region -- North Carolina, Florida, Illinois, South Carolina and Texas. Under the law signed by Congress Feb. 8, those regulatory approvals are likely.
Bell Atlantic's move makes it the first of the regional Bell companies to jump into the residential and business long-distance market. It will certainly not be the last.
The company will compete against established carriers such as AT&T; Corp., MCI Communications Corp. and Sprint Corp. by reselling cable capacity leased from existing long-distance carriers.
Bell Atlantic spokesman Eric Rabe declined to identify the carrier or carriers from which it will lease capacity, but he indicated the company would use neither AT&T; nor MCI.
Among the other companies with national or large regional long-distance networks are LDDS Communications, LCI International Inc. and Frontier Communications.
Mr. Rabe said the first five states had been chosen for a variety of reasons, including ease of filing and an existing Bell Atlantic presence.
The new telecommunications law frees the regional Bell companies from the terms of the "modified final judgment" in the antitrust suit that broke up the old Bell System in 1984.
Under the terms of that agreement, the newly created regional Bells were barred from entering the long-distance business.
The law lets the Bells offer service outside their core regions as soon as they can get the required state approvals.
"In most of these states we should be able to move fairly quickly," Mr. Rabe said. "We expect to be filing these things routinely for the next couple of months."
Bell Atlantic faces a longer wait before it can offer long-distance service in Maryland and the rest of the mid-Atlantic region, JTC however.
The new law requires it to complete a "checklist" of measures designed to open its local networks to competition before it can offer long-distance service to in-region customers.
Mr. Rabe estimated that it would take at least a year before Bell Atlantic will be able to satisfy those conditions.
Even then, long-distance companies are likely to take a different view of whether the local market truly is open.
The ensuing legal wrangles could delay the Bells' hopes of offering "one-stop shopping" for months, if not years.
The Bell Atlantic announcement is one of a flurry of new ventures announced by the regional Bells and their cellular affiliates since the bill passed Feb. 1.
Last week, Bell Atlantic Nynex Mobile announced that it had chosen LCI as its provider of long-distance capacity. Ameritech Corp., the Midwestern regional Bell, said Monday that LDDS would provide long-distance capacity for its cellular affiliate.
"We can expect many more announcements in the near future," said Peter Krasilovsky, senior analyst with Arlen Communications in Bethesda.