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Sprint launches drive for local users

OVERLAND PARK, KAN. — OVERLAND PARK, Kan. - Sprint Corp. introduced bundled local, long-distance and wireless calling plans in Maryland and 35 other states yesterday to gain a bigger share of the local-phone business.

Sprint, which is seeking to boost revenue while sales fall at its long-distance telephone business, will target a local-phone campaign to its millions of wireless and land-line customers.

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The company's promotion campaign includes advertisements in bill inserts and telemarketing calls. They will be promoting bundled call plans with unlimited minutes. Sales representatives at Sprint's retail stores also will sign customers, said Dan Wilinsky, a company spokesman.

The long-distance company lags behind two larger long-distance carriers, No. 1 AT&T; Corp. and No. 2 MCI Group, in selling local service. The long-distance giants rent network wires and switches from regional carriers such as Verizon Communications Inc.

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Sprint has gained 100,000 new local customers this way. Sprint has 18.8 million wireless customers and 6 million long-distance customers. Sprint didn't disclose how much it would spend to promote the plans.

"This is where the industry is heading, toward bundled packages" of services, said Richard G. Klugman, a Jefferies & Co. analyst who rates Sprint stock "hold" and doesn't personally own shares. "It's important for Sprint to catch up."

Sprint said its new bundled offer is available throughout most of Maryland, including the Baltimore-Washington corridor.

Shares of Sprint PCS, the company's wireless division, were down 5 cents to close at $5.20 on the New York Stock Exchange. Shares of Sprint FON, the company's land-line division, were up 1 cent to close at $14.66. The FON shares have climbed 13 percent in the past year.

Long-distance "revenue has been declining, and this is an important part of stabilizing that revenue stream," said Harry S. Campbell, Sprint's president of mass markets.

Sales at the long-distance unit have dropped for 10 straight quarters. The Federal Communications Commission issued final rules last week on network leasing, making the regulatory environment clearer, Campbell said.

The rules increase states' authority to decide wholesale rates that new local competitors such as Sprint and AT&T; pay to rent parts of the large regional-phone providers' networks.

About half of Sprint's 8 million local-phone customers, who are in areas where the company is the dominant regional operator and doesn't rent the network from others, also subscribe to Sprint's long-distance service, the company said.

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Sprint's new "complete sense unlimited" plans offer a combination of local, long-distance and wireless-phone services for $49.99 to $189.99 a month. A plan for $189.99 a month offers unlimited local, long-distance and wireless calling.

U.S. long-distance carriers like AT&T; and MCI have signed up 10.2 million customers by leasing access lines from regional phone companies such as Verizon and BellSouth Corp. Verizon, BellSouth and other local providers, meanwhile, are getting approvals in U.S. states to sell long- distance service, cutting into the customer base of long-distance carriers AT&T;, WorldCom and Sprint.

AT&T; added 135,000 local-phone lines in the second quarter, for a total of 4.2 million.


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