The company must first prove that it's sharing its lines with competitors.
CHICAGO -- Since its 1999 merger with SBC Communications, Ameri tech has paid nearly $50 million to its competitors and the five Midwestern states it serves for failing to meet standards for opening the local phone market to competition.
That's in addition to more than $17 million that Ohio regulators have fined the company for service-related problems.
At the same time, Ameritech officials report filling 350,000 orders a month for its competitors and giving them speedier service than even Ameritech's retail customers receive.
The seemingly conflicting portraits of the former monopoly's effort to share its network with competitors show the difficult task regulators face as Ameritech tries to prove it has earned the right to sell long distance in the five states. However, in Ohio, regulators are demanding proof that the markets are open before allowing Ameritech to sell long distance service.
Under the 1996 Telecommunications Act, former local phone monopolies can enter the long-distance market only after they demonstrate they are sharing their phone lines and other systems with competitors that want to offer local phone service.
John Hudzik, SBC Ameritech's vice president of long distance compliance, said he is confident that Ameritech will win long-distance approval from state and federal regulators, possibly by early next year. Ameritech operates in Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Michigan and Wisconsin.
But Ameritech's competitors, including long-distance giants AT & amp;T and MCI Worldcom, say Ameritech has been slow in shaping up its network to smoothly transfer customers to upstart providers.
The Public Utilities Commission of Ohio recently ordered Ameritech Ohio to reduce the hook-up and access fees it charges competitors. Only CoreComm, with about 50,000 residential customers, and MCI, which began offering residential service in February, compete with Ameritech in Ohio.
The conditions for Ameritech being allowed into the long-distance market will be determined after completing tests of its systems.
On Tuesday, Ameritech released a study it paid for that found that its entry into the long-distance market eventually would lead to a 20 percent reduction in rates and a boost in the economy that would create 45,000 new jobs in Ohio within five years.
The study predicted 6,600 jobs would be created in the Youngstown-Akron-Canton region. Jobs would be created because companies that use telecommunications extensively would have lower operating costs with Ameritech's rates, the study said. These companies would pass these savings on to consumers, who would be able to buy more goods and services in other industries, which would spur job creation, the study said.
The Coalition for Customer Choice, a group of competitors, said the study was based on assumptions.