While Verizon labored to restore telephone service to 10,000 businesses in lower Manhattan this week, the Federal Communications Commission quietly approved its application to compete for long-distance customers in Pennsylvania.
The FCC approval means Verizon now can deliver long-distance to 40 states. They include the 36 states that werent in the old Bell Atlantics region, plus Massachusetts, New York, Connecticut and, now, Pennsylvania.
Verizon hopes to apply for approval in New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Vermont and New Jersey by the end of this year, and in Maine, Delaware, Maryland, West Virginia, Virginia and the District of Columbia by the end of next year.
Regional Bells, which include SBC Communications, BellSouth and Qwest Communications International, through its acquisition of U.S. West, still dominate local telephone service in their regions. The 14-point checklist they must meet in each state in their original regions before they can offer long distance is aimed at ensuring they have opened their lines and central offices to competitive local carriers.
Each of the 14 points can have 100 sub-points, at the discretion or whim of the state attorneys general, said Verizon spokesman Bob Bishop. "Those who prefer that we not be in the long-distance business continually point out minor deficiencies within those 14 points. Odd little items become major issues.
The regional Bells hope they can streamline the process by lumping states together for approval. SBC has put in an application that lumps Missouri and Arkansas together, and Verizon hopes to lump together New Hampshire, Vermont and Rhode Island because all three have the same operating system.
As the Bells win long-distance approvals, they compete with long-distance giants such as Sprint, WorldCom and AT&T, as well as competitive carriers and international carriers such as Global Crossing and Deutsche Telekom.
But so far, Verizons four and SBCs three – Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas – are the only states that have passed FCC muster. The commission has denied applications by BellSouth for Louisiana and South Carolina, and by Ameritech, which was acquired by SBC, for Michigan.
The Competitive Telecommunications Association, the lobby group for the competitive carriers, maintains that entrenched local exchange carriers continue to erect barriers to competition. Officials of the group object to virtually all the incumbents applications for approval, maintaining that the Bells have subverted the Telecommunications Act to preserve their local monopolies.
"There has been little that existing regulations have accomplished to open the critical first mile," said H. Russell Frisby, Jr., president of CompTel. "Competitors battle the entrenched monopolists everyday.
Verizon intends to roll out its long-distance service in Pennsylvania in October.
Every win helps, Bishop said. If Verizon can offer both local and long-distance services to enterprises, its one less thing the information manager has to worry about as he or she juggles several voice, data and video networks. "It moves us toward becoming a full-service provider for telecom managers, Bishop said.
Last week, Verizon also agreed to a consent decree that calls for it to pay a $78,000 fine. Verizon was tardy in posting on its Web site the news that some of its central offices had run out of room and wouldnt have space for competitors switches until they were expanded.