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Bell Atlantic Introduces Long-Distance Plans in New York
By Bruce Meyerson   Associated Press
NEW YORK — Bell Atlantic introduced its long-distance telephone service in New York Tuesday, which will make it the first Baby Bell to offer out-of-state calling from a market where it also provides local phone service.

The company unveiled three long-distance plans, emphasizing two with no monthly fees or minimum usage, as well as a package that bundles local and long-distance service. Combination plans, often including Internet service, are expected to become commonplace as Bell Atlantic and other regional Bell providers of local service win federal clearance to sell long distance in other states.

Bell Atlantic, the local phone company for most of the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic, gained clearance for New York last week as regulators declared that the company had finally opened the state's local calling market to competition.

A ruling was expected today in a lawsuit by AT&T; seeking to block the decision by the Federal Communications Commission. AT&T; contends that Bell Atlantic still hasn't made it physically and financially feasible for rivals to sell local service by leasing Bell Atlantic's phone lines. Bell Atlantic officials said today they were confident they would begin selling long distance in New York on Wednesday.

New York has quickly become the main battleground for an impending clash between the Bells and long distance leaders AT&T;, MCI WorldCom and Sprint, all three of which have introduced local calling in New York over the past year.

SBC Communications expects to get long-distance approval for Texas soon from the Federal Communications Commission while BellSouth expects it in Georgia. Bell Atlantic officials said today they expect FCC approval for New Jersey, Massachusetts and Pennsylvania by year-end.

Bell Atlantic's new long distance offerings include a 10-cent per minute plan that costs more per minute than the five-cent and seven-cent rates recently introduced by the big three, but charges no monthly fee and may prove cheaper for low-volume callers.

A second plan available only available on the Internet offers a five-cent rate on weekends and a nine-cent rate on weekdays, also with no monthly fees. Web-only plans usually feature cheaper rates because the company can save money by not printing and mailing out bills, and guarantee payment with a credit card or automatic deductions from a customer's bank account.

For high-volume callers, those Bell Atlantic described as customers who spend more than $35 per month on long distance, there's a calling plan with a monthly fee of $5.95, five-cent calling during weekend and off-peak hours, and 10-cent calling during weekday business hours.

The new package plan will cost $19.99 per month plus 10 cents per minute for all long-distance use and a per-call charge for local usage that varies with the time of day. The monthly fee includes up to eight additional features such as caller ID, call waiting and three-way calling.

Bell Atlantic officials said the flat-rate option of 10 cents a minute would save money for 60 percent of New York's long-distance customers compared with the calling plans most prominently advertised by AT&T;, MCI and Sprint, which carry a monthly fee.

"The 7-cent or 5-cent plans offered by the big three long distance competitors are phantom long distance plans," said Maura Breen, president and chief executive of Bell Atlantic Communications, the new unit responsible for long distance service.

Breen said that by eliminating monthly fees, Bell Atlantic's 10-cent plan would cost one-third to one-half less than most competing plans, which "can cost customers as much as 16 or 17 cents a minute when the extra charges are calculated."

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