Wednesday, August 07, 2002

Verizon, BellSouth bundling phone services

1 company, 1 bill for all calls, Web, wireless

By Bruce Meyerson
The Associated Press

        NEW YORK - After years of paying separately for telephone, wireless and Internet service, even when dealing with a single company, consumers are finally getting the chance to replace those multiple accounts with a single bill.

        The shift toward “bundling,” an industry buzzword since Congress deregulated the telecommunications industry in 1996, is getting a jump-start from some of the nation's big local telephone monopolies.

        Verizon Communications said Tuesday that customers in New York and Massachusetts can now buy a package of local calling, long-distance, cellular and high-speed Web access for between $135 and $145 a month, or about 30 percent less than what the company charges for those services separately.

        Last week, BellSouth introduced a bundle of local, long-distance, cellular and dial-up Web access for Georgia and Louisiana residents at a discount of 12 percent on the combined regular prices. An upgrade to faster DSL service is available.

        And in May, SBC Communications, which prefers the “a la carte” approach to pre-set bundles, began offering all those services, and satellite TV, on a single bill in Texas, Oklahoma, Missouri, Kansas and Arkansas.

        These initiatives contrast sharply with the controversial decision by AT&T Corp. to get rid of its wireless and cable TV businesses, the company's top executives insisting that the presumed appeal of bundled services is fictitious.

        Many analysts, however, see tremendous appeal in bundling.

        “We've been conditioned against our will to buy separate services from separate companies and pay for them all with separate checks each month,” said Jeff Kagan, an industry analyst. “I think the concept of one company, one bill, one check will be very attractive to confused and time-crunched consumers.”

        While many phone and cable TV companies were already offering various combinations of calling plans and Internet access, a full mix of services has been elusive because of regulatory, technological and financial obstacles.

        On the simplest level, some companies such as AT&T and MCI WorldCom don't own a wireless business or a local residential network.

        Others that do own wireless and local networks - such as Verizon, BellSouth, SBC and fellow Baby Bell Qwest Communications - have only recently won government permission to sell long-distance.


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