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Southwestern Bell Telephone Company.

Southwestern Bell Uses New Technology, Keeps Rates Low, Quality High

For more years than most of us can even remember, Arkansas customers of Southwestern Bell Telephone Company have been expecting -- and getting -- affordable, quality telephone service.

For basic telephone rates, "affordable" has always been the key, while technological innovation is at the heart of the "quality" side of telephone service. This has been especially true in recent years.

The price of basic telephone service in Arkansas has remained a bargain. As prices in the general economy have continued to climb, Southwestern Bell has held its basic telephone rates in Arkansas at the same price since 1986. During the same period, reductions in long-distance rates have totaled about 25 percent.

The company has been able to do this by finding ways to cut expenses and operate more efficiently, but also has relied on the advantages of new technology and the introduction of innovative new services for both business and residential markets.

In short, one of the ways the price of basic service has been kept affordable is by increasing the quality and diversity of the optional services available.

New technology is a tradition in the communications industry. Over the years, Arkansas telephone subscribers have become accustomed to having the latest in telecommunications technology. There probably are a great many people who, when they think about it at all, take these technological innovations in communications for granted as either a bonus or a by-product.

But in these final years of the 20th Century, the new technological developments not only are coming more frequently, they're moving to center stage. Customer expectations have changed radically in just the past 20 years.

This is especially true in the business world, where the flow of information is steadily accelerating and where maintaining the competitive edge it confers is becoming more critical.

At the national level, this fact was recently emphasized when the Clinton-Gore administration announced its vision for a "national communications superhighway" that would compare in economic impact to the upgrade from two-lane highways to the interstate system begun in the 1950s.

If there is to be an information superhighway, though, it will take changes in the regulatory process at both the federal and state levels to pave the way. Times have changed. Telecommunications was once a monopoly industry, but competition has been introduced at all levels. Cable TV companies, for example, now can provide telephone service, and telephone companies can provide cable TV service. In June, an FCC ruling took effect that introduced competition for basic local telephone service, the last remaining area where there had been none.

In addition, most of these new competitors are not subject to the same regulatory restrictions as telephone companies. If they are to meet the increasing competition in every aspect of their business, local telephone companies like Southwestern Bell must have much more flexibility in responding to the demands of the competitive marketplace than they have had under traditional forms of regulatory oversight.

And, in fact, the Arkansas Public Service Commission has agreed to consider a proposal Southwestern Bell has submitted for a trial of a more flexible form of regulation in Arkansas. As part of the trial, Southwestern Bell would have greater flexibility to experiment with offering special discounts or "package deals" for its optional services.

The PSC also has scheduled hearings on another proposal that calls for the company to reduce some of its rates while making a $231 investment in the state's telephone network aimed at benefiting the state in the areas of education, health care and jobs.

The investment is intended not only to provide a step in the direction of "information highways" for schools, medical facilities and economic development, but to offer improvements in the capacity and reliability of the state's telephone network for all telephone users for years to come.

If there is to be a national information superhighway, Southwestern Bell wants to be sure Arkansas is not left behind. And through all of this, the company isn't forgetting the basics: it has pledged to maintain its longstanding commitment to provide the kind of quality, affordable basic service its customers have come to expect.
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Publication:Arkansas Business
Article Type:Company Profile
Date:Aug 16, 1993
Previous Article:Finance.
Next Article:Arkansas Business: committed to excellence.

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