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Indiana's long-distance choices; after six years of divestiture, a host of companies and services are available in Indiana.

INDIANA'S LONG-DISTANCE CHOICES

On January 1, the long-distance industry celebrates the sixth anniversary of divestiture. Those six years have seen American Telephone & Telegraph Co.'s market share drop to an estimated 67 percent, thanks to voracious competition from MCI Telecommunications Corporation, US Sprint Communications Company and the host of regional companies that crop up wherever a niche needs filling. Business customers stand to gain from the ongoing competition.

"The telecommunications market is a buyers' market where consumers shape the products and services by demand, and they have a lot of choices," explains Alex Cornella, public relations manager for AT&T in Indianapolis.

Because they're not regulated by the Federal Communications Commission, resellers - carriers that lease facilities from other companies - can customize rates for each client. So their rates are often, but not always, below those of the major long-distance carriers. Authorized resellers also can capture intraLATA (Local Access and Transport Area) traffic, those costly not-so-long-distance calls that the local phone company picks up otherwise.

Although price still plays a role in the long-distance decision, quality and services - especially billing services - are becoming major selling points.

For a few years, digital fiber optics was the must-have for quality seekers. Now that most carriers boast networks of nearly 100 percent fiber optics, signaling systems are the new technological dividing line. The systems reduce call setup time - the wait after you finish dialing before the phone rings. According to Indianapolis-based telecommunications consultant Paul Johnson, call setup times range from about five seconds for AT&T to up to 10 seconds for some resellers. Signaling systems are "definitely one of the hot products in the industry that all of us are looking at," says Mike Shively, director of sales for One Call Communications.

Steve Fitzgerald, director of facilities and management information systems for CTI Telecommunications, cautions that customers who compare setup times should find out whether the figure includes the time needed for the local phone company to pass the call to the long-distance carrier, or only covers the time the carrier requires to complete the call.

Customer service is another big selling point. The major carriers assign customer service representatives to large accounts, while resellers often assign one to every customer. Many reps get into contact with customers monthly.

Jodi Rohler, coordinator of community affairs for LiTel Telecommunications Corp., a small facility-based carrier, explains why small carriers are more attentive: "If we lose a customer, we feel it. Even small to medium-sized businesses are big customers to us."

Small carriers often have service representatives in the communities they serve, a factor that adds to their appeal. "Companies with responsive reps who see their clients frequently succeed in keeping clients," points out telecommunications consultant Johnson. Johnson notes, however, that resellers usually don't have as large a service staff to resolve problems. "I'm not saying that they're inadequate. They just don't have as large a personnel base." Also, because they set aggressive quotas, resellers may have a greater turnover in personnel, which can cause some anxiety in clients, Johnson says. And resellers often can't provide the range of products that a major carrier can.

Business customers demand accurate, understandable billing, so most long-distance companies provide management reports that put the data in a manageable format. Possible details include breakdowns by corporate level, average length and cost of call, time of day and area code called. Reports can flag lengthy calls, international calls and frequently called numbers.

Major carriers generally reserve deluxe reports for their bigger customers. Resellers are more accommodating, yet may lack the technology to provide as much detail. Some can customize the reports to include only the information the customer wants. Most, however, charge for such custom billing. For customers who want to play with their own data, a few carriers can supply invoices on magnetic tape or floppy disk.

Accounting codes are a popular feature to help companies manage their long-distance use. More long-distance carriers are offering mandatory codes that must be used for a call to go through. Validated, or verifiable codes are also available. These often-secret codes limit long-distance use to authorized staff.

Despite their official appearance, long-distance bills are not always error-free. It's possible, for example, to be charged for calls that aren't answered. Consultant Johnson suggests checking for one-minute calls. An overabundance may mean that the carrier uses software-based answer supervision instead of the more accurate hardware-based.

The following are long-distance carriers operating in Indiana. The facility-based companies own their networks, while resellers lease their equipment.

FACILITY-BASED

CARRIERS

American Telephone &

Telegraph Co.

Goliath is learning some quick moves to keep competitors from bruising his shins. "In the first 105 years of AT&T's history we never ran a promotion on anything," says Dennis Abshire, division sales manager for AT&T. "In 1989 we ran a lot of promotions." He cites AT&T's 800 Assurance Program, which guarantees that requests for 800 service will be installed on time, as ordered, and that any service disruption will be fixed within one hour.

Promotions also have waived installation fees for special network products - fees that could amount to thousands of dollars. "We're trying to shed the old monopoly image that people have had, correctly, about us for years," says Abshire.

LiTel Telecommunications

Corp.

Worthington, Ohio-based LiTel was incorporated in 1984. It serves customers in northern Indiana and focuses on small to medium-sized businesses. LiTel belongs to the National Telecommunications Network, a consortium of regional carriers united to provide 100 percent fiber optic service nationally.

LiTel's operator service will be available by the end of December. Validated accounting codes should be available within a year.

This fall, LiTel acquired two Midwest long-distance companies: Afford-a-Call of Lima, Ohio, and Charter Network of Louisville, Ky. Both carriers will continue to operate independently.

MCI Telecommunications

Corporation

MCI introduced several new business products during the past five months. Daytime Savings lets companies billing less than $500 place an hour of calls during business hours for $12 a month; additional minutes cost 20 cents each. For the hotel industry, Hospitality Plus gives special pricing on PRISM PLUS, MCI's switched-access WATS product that includes operator service, card products and special management reporting. Digital Private Line Service makes a private line affordable for the smaller user. MCI Portfolio provides enhanced management reporting for multilocation, multiservice customers.

US Sprint Communications

Company

Early in 1990, US Sprint's new invoice processing system will make customized billing available to most business customers. Right now US Sprint is promoting FONVIEW, a personal computer billing system that delivers the invoice on floppy disk so that companies can make their own customized management reports. Says Karen Rayl, director of corporate relations for US Sprint's central region: "It gives them display capability to completely analyze long-distance calling patterns by point of origin, geographic range, time of day, busy hour and other variables."

Sprint is opening a regional operations center in Fishers early next year. Operators at the new center will assist callers with person-to-person, collect and credit-card calls.

RESELLERS

Allnet Communication

Services

Combined with its subsidiary, CTI Telecommunications, Allnet serves all of Indiana. The Birmingham, Mich., company has a full spectrum of products, some of which include special cities discounts. Its primary niche is small and medium-sized businesses, although its clients include Fortune 500 firms as well.

Charter Network

Recently acquired by LiTel, Louisville, Ky.-based Charter will continue to operate independently. According to Marketing Coordinator Janet Hymer, the 4-year-old company has 1 percent to 2 percent of the market share in the 16 communities it covers in northern and central Indiana. Charter has a special cities program and operator service.

Conquest Long Distance

Corp.

Up to now, Conquest has served only a few rural Indiana areas. The company, however, plans to establish sales offices in Indiana and to begin an aggressive marketing program. The Dublin, Ohio, company was started in 1987.

CTI Telecommunications

Started in 1983 and based in South Bend, this subsidiary of Allnet serves about 1,800 businesses in the northern half of Indiana. It's the preferred carrier for Notre Dame University, Saint Mary's College and Goshen College. CTI plans to offer 800 service in the first quarter of 1990. By mid-1990, CTI plans to make detailed management reports available for all customers.

Long-Distance Discount

Service

Six-year-old LDDS, based in Jackson, Miss., has Indiana offices in Bloomington and in Evansville, where it acquired TMC this year. An Indianapolis office is scheduled to open in January, and by the second quarter of 1990 LDDS service will be available statewide. LDDS's operator service should be up and running by the end of this year. By February its new centralized billing system will be capable of providing more-detailed invoices.

Metromedia/ITT Long

Distance

Metromedia Long Distance has acquired ITT Communications, hence the hybrid name. ITT was founded in 1976 and is based in New Jersey. Although it serves the northern and central regions of the state, the company has no Indiana offices. Fifteen percent of transmissions are over fiber optics.

One Call Communications

One Call, the largest Indiana-based reseller, is headquartered in Carmel. In September it purchased One Call Communications of South Central Indiana. The company serves most of the state, except the South Bend and Gary areas. It has offices in cities throughout Indiana, as well as in Detroit and Atlanta. One Call's operator service started in October. The service will accept credit-card calls from Bell system and local exchange carriers.

TeleDial America

Six-year-old TeleDial America is based in Grand Rapids, Mich., and has customers throughout Indiana. TeleDial offers special city rates with some products. Operator service has been available since November. TeleDial's billing is by calendar month. Versions on microfiche, magnetic tape and floppy disk are offered.

Tri-Tel Communications

Started in 1981 and headquartered in Munster, Tri-Tel was the first carrier to offer billing in six-second increments. Tri-Tel serves northwest Indiana and plans to expand into other regions of the state. Operator service will be available soon.
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Author:Hynes, Erin
Publication:Indiana Business Magazine
Date:Dec 1, 1989
Words:1652
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