Two telecommunications companies will ramp up dial-tone service for Spokane commercial customers soon, joining three other providers of such service in an increasingly competitive market here.
The two companies, Stamford, Conn.-based Citizens Telecom and Vancouver, Wash.-based GST Telecom Washington Inc., plan to offer local dial-tone service to Spokane business customers by March and May, respectively.
Meanwhile, telecommunications giants like AT&T and MCI, which already have confirmed their plans to offer local phone service in the Spokane market, still are waiting for regulatory issues to be resolved before launching service here.
AT&T Corp., the nations biggest long-distance carrier, hopes to enter local business-service markets in Washington state during the fourth quarter of this year, says Susan Carpenter, a Seattle-based spokeswoman for AT&T.
The companys entry into those markets is contingent on its ability to reach resale agreements with US West Communications Inc., Carpenter says. There still are a number of concerns about cost and pricing that must be resolved before AT&T will begin offering dial-tone service to commercial customers in Washington, she says.
Carpenter declines to disclose whether Spokane will be one of the first Washington markets the company enters, although the company has said it will offer dial-tone services here eventually. She says the timing will depend on what agreements can be reached.
MCI Metro Access Transmission Services Inc., a subsidiary of MCI Telecommunications Inc., the giant long-distance carrier, is working to enter the nations top 31 local-service markets by the end of 1997. Spokane isnt one of those markets, and Bernie Tylor, a spokesman at MCIs headquarters in Washington, D.C., says MCI Metro, which already is offering dial-tone service in about 19 markets across the U.S., including Seattle, wont be considering the Spokane market until it has its service established in all of the countrys top 31 markets.
So far, MCIs progress in entering additional markets in Washington state has been slow going from a regulatory standpoint, Tylor says. He says that MCI Metro still is waiting for issuessuch as resale rates, access fees, and complex matters called interconnection and unbundlingto be resolved.
Tylor contends these unresolved issues also are slowing MCI Metros expansion plans in Seattle, where it already has laid its own fiber-optic network and has installed a switch, which hooks up business customers to MCI Metros local service. He says that the company now wants to provide local phone service to more businesses and eventually residential areas in the Seattle market. However, those expansion plans depend on the outcome of the ongoing regulatory battles, he says.
We are at the mercy of the Bells, which are setting the pace and determining how quickly they want to let us in, Tylor says.
In Spokane, Nextlink Communications Inc., Frontier Corp., and US West already offer local service. They expect to be challenged by a flood of companies that are getting in the market in the state.
The number of telecommunications players that have received approval from the Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission (WUTC) to test the local phone-service waters in the state has doubled to 12 in the last year. Another six applications are pending, three of which are close to being approved, says Tim Sweeney, a telecommunications policy specialist for the WUTC.
Washington state has allowed competition for local service since 1994, when the state Supreme Court ruled that the states regulated local phone-service providers didnt have exclusive rights to the areas they serve. As a result of that decision, the WUTC has been clearing the way for the 12 new companies to go head-to-head against long-established US West and GTE Northwest local-exchange business. Most of the 12 new companies are either operating or laying cable in the Seattle area already, Sweeney says.
In addition to MCI and AT&T, the 12 companies include: Nextlink Communications Inc., of Bellevue; Electric Lightwave Inc., a Vancouver, Wash.-based subsidiary of Citizens Utilities Co.; MFS Intelenet of Washington, a subsidiary of Jackson, Miss.-based WorldCom; TCG Seattle, of Seattle; GST Telecom Washington Inc., which is part of Vancouver-based GST Telecommunications Inc.; WinStar Wireless of Washington Inc., a subsidiary of WinStar Communications Inc., of Tysons Corner, Va.; Cable Plus Co., of Bellevue; International Telcom Ltd., a Seattle-based company doing business there as Kallback; Executone Information Systems Inc., of Darien, Conn.; and LCI International Telecom Corp., of McLean, Va.
Although some of the new competitors are serving customers already, Sweeney says the time it has taken for that competition to emerge has been disappointingthough, not surprising.
The monopoly that has been 100 years in the making isnt exactly embracing its competitors, says Sweeney, adding that he cant really blame them.
Sweeney says he gets frustrated when agreements that are developed in arbitration, to resolve issues between the old companies and the new ones, end up being appealed, resulting in prolonged legal battles. For instance, issues surrounding interconnection, which requires competing companies to link their separate networks so that phone traffic flows between them, have been stewed over for more than two years now, and Sweeney says he doesnt see an end in site.
Still, progress in other areas is being made, he says.
One of the companies that recently worked out a resale agreement with US West was Citizens Telecom. That company has one of the three pending applications that was expected to be approved this week, Sweeney says.
Citizens plans to buy use of a package of local phone lines from US West at a wholesale rate, then sell those lines to business customers in Spokane. It wont be laying its own fiber-optic network here.
Joe Ross, a Spokane-based account executive for Citizens, says that the company, which opened an office at 140 S. Arthur nearly a year ago, will offer local, long-distance, and toll-free phone service, as well as conference calling, calling cards, and paging services here. At this point, it doesnt plan to offer cellular service, although it may in the future, he says.
Citizens had hoped to begin offering local phone service in the Spokane area during the first or second quarters of last year, Ross says. He explains that difficulties in reaching a resale agreement with US West held up its service. However, an agreement was reached between both companies earlier this year, and Citizens hopes to begin offering service here on March 1, he says.
Ross says that Citizens tends to offer service in smaller markets compared with its subsidiary, Electric Lightwave, which has entered markets such as Seattle, Portland, and Salt Lake City with fiber-optic networks. Spokane would be the biggest market that Citizens would enter, he says.
GST Telecom Washington, which already has received regulatory approval to provide local dial-tone service anywhere in the state, began offering long-distance business phone service, data-related services, and Internet access here last August, says Mitzi Sachs, vice president and general manager of GSTs operations in Washington. The company already has laid a fiber-optic network in Spokanes downtown area and currently is installing a central switch here, which should enable it to offer local phone service to businesses here by May, Sachs says.
She says that plans are being discussed to extend GSTs fiber-optic network from the downtown core to the medical community on the South Hill. However, those plans are dependent on demand and adequate revenue, she says.
In the meantime, companies that already are in the dial-tone market here are gearing up for the expected competition.
Nextlink Washington, a Spokane-based affiliate of Bellevue-based Nextlink Communications, has laid its own fiber-optic network in Spokanes downtown area and turned on its switch here last July. The company now serves 1,000 customers and has 7,700 business telephone lines here, says Greg Green, president of Nextlink Washington.
The company is looking at eventually expanding its network, Green says. He says that Nextlink is evaluating various areas where it could expand its services, such as the medical community on the South Hill or in certain areas in the Spokane Valley. He says that those pockets will be evaluated throughout the year, and Nextlink will build its network to serve areas that have the greatest needs.
Green previously was president of Tel-West Communications Inc., a Spokane company that for years had been offering local dial-tone service here by reselling US Wests service. Tel-West, however, was bought by Bellevue-based Nextlink in 1995.
Nextlink Washington, which currently employs 40 people here, expects to hire about 10 additional people by the end of 1997, Green says.
The company is leasing about 5,000 square feet of floor space on the eighth floor of the U.S. Bank Building downtown, but is planning to leave the eighth floor and take over an entire floor in that same building, says Marty Dickinson, Nextlinks marketing and communications director. The company expects to move from its cramped quarters to the 9,500-square-foot new space in April, she says.
Another company that has been offering local dial-tone service here for some time, Frontier Corp., a Rochester, N.Y.-based long-distance provider with offices in the Rock Pointe complex here, says it may establish its own fiber-optic network and switch here next year.
Frontier entered the Spokane market two years ago after buying Minneapolis-based American Sharecom Inc., which had an office here, and Minneapolis-based Enhanced Telemanagement Inc., which also had an office here. Like Tel-West, those companies had been reselling US Wests local dial-tone services, and Frontier continued that practice after melding the Spokane offices of the two operations, says Jim Prussack, general manager of Frontiers Spokane office. Frontier now has about 600 dial-tone service customers and about 1,500 long-distance service subscribers, he says.
Prussack says that this year, Frontier hopes to install its own infrastructure or acquire another company with its own infrastructure in 25 cities with populations of 1 million or more. He says the company likely will start doing the same thing in smaller markets, such as those the size of Spokane, during the first or second quarter of 1998.
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