ALBANY, N.Y. -- Bell Atlantic Corp., the largest U.S. local phone company, said it won't seek approval to enter the $8 billion-a-year New York state long-distance market until the first quarter, later than expected.
Bell Atlantic had planned to ask Federal Communications Commission permission by the end of 1998 to offer long-distance service to its local phone customers in New York. That's been delayed because state regulators, who will make recommendations to the FCC on Bell Atlantic's application, have yet to finish evaluating the computer systems Bell Atlantic uses to process rivals' customer service orders.
"We don't have any control over this," said Bell Atlantic spokesman Mark Marchand.
Bell Atlantic and the other regional local phone companies -- SBC Communications Inc., BellSouth Corp., Ameritech Corp. and U S West Inc. -- can't offer their customers long-distance service, because they have yet to prove to the FCC that their markets are open to competitors. Phone companies and investors are watching Bell Atlantic's New York application closely; it's expected to be the first to get long-distance approval.
The New York Public Service Commission has been testing Bell Atlantic's "operations support systems" for months. These systems, which are supposed to enable customers to speedily switch to a new local phone company if they choose, are critical to a rival phone company's ability to compete.
Last week, new tests were started to measure the systems' ability to process large volumes of customer service orders. State regulators expect the tests to take at least four weeks.
Analysts and industry officials say the New York commission is among the toughest in the country. If Bell Atlantic wins its backing, that may carry considerable weight with the FCC when it makes its final decision.
A telecommunications industry analyst with Janney Montgomery Scott Inc. said she expects Bell Atlantic to win the backing of New York regulators for its application in late February or March.
The FCC must weigh the recommendations of state regulators and the U.S. Justice Department.
So far, the agency has turned down five separate long-distance applications from regional phone companies. Bell Atlantic shares fell $1.375, to $57.25, yesterday.
Pub Date: 12/23/98