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Baltimore's City Paper article on ISDN
This is disseminated with permission. jamie
---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Tue, 25 Jun 1996 22:20:53 -0400 (EDT)
From: Joab Jackson <email@example.com>
The Heart of Communication
WeÂ’ve all pretty much gotten used to the shell games long-distance
phone companies play with their ratesÂ—a dime now but a quarter
tomorrow and all that. But soon Internet users might have to start
poring over Bell AtlanticÂ’s (http://www.bell-atl.com) local rates as
well, if they want to find the best prices for high-speed Net surfing.
And this fact has a Ralph NaderÂ–affiliated activist group, the
Consumer Project on Technology (http://www.essential.org/cpt) up in
arms. It believes the prices that Bell Atlantic offers now and wants
to offer in the future are unnecessarily high.
The Consumer Project Â‘s discontent is about Bell AtlanticÂ’s Integrated
Services Digital Network (ISDN) service. Not many people have heard of
ISDN yet, but anyone who frequently uses the Internet will, in all
likelihood, come to use it in the next few years. An ISDN can transmit
digital data several times as quickly as todayÂ’s fastest modems can.
With extensive graphics, downloadable film clips, Real Audio services,
and other bandwidth-heavy applications becoming the norm on the
NetÂ—and with video conferencing and telecommuting becoming fixtures in
the workplaceÂ—ISDN might very well be more a necessity than a luxury
in the near future.
Our local telephone company, Bell Atlantic, offers residential ISDN
now, but the price is steepÂ—$249 a month for unlimited usage, with
various lower metered rates based on how much time the user spends
on-line (one monthly fee for 20 hours, another for 60, etc.). On July
3, the Maryland Public Service Commission (PSC) will begin considering
the phone companyÂ’s proposed new Â“tariffs,Â” which cut rates for
metered usage but leave unlimited service at the same $249 a month.
CPT is fighting the Bell Atlantic request, which the consumer
organization considers excessive. For one thing, CPT executive
director James Love says, it doesnÂ’t cost Bell Atlantic much more to
offer ISDN than to offer normal phone service. The CPT Web page points
to an analysis by the Tennessee public-service commission that found
that residential ISDN only costs that stateÂ’s telephone company $9.77
per month more than the regular service. Since customersÂ’ on-line time
has so little bearing on the ISDN providerÂ’s cost, CPT argues, the
focus should be on unlimited-service packages, and Bell AtlanticÂ’s is
far from competitive. On a Â“Talking PointsÂ” paper on its Web page, CPT
lists several companies that offer unlimited ISDN usage at a fraction
of Bell AtlanticÂ’s charge: $17.90 a month for Arkansas-based NATCO,
for example, and fees ranging from $28.05 to $34.50 in four Midwestern
states served by Ameritech.
Unfortunately, Love told to me by phone, few consumers will know about
this disparity until it is too late; by the time they reach into their
pockets for this fine new service, theyÂ’ll find they have to reach
pretty deep to afford it. Â“If no consumer objections are raised at the
hearing, it is likely that the ISDN tariffs will be approved without
any further hearings,Â” CPT asserts in a press release.
I brought these concerns to the attention of Bell Atlantic
spokesperson Joan Rasmussen. On the issue of flat rate vs. metered
service, she explains that Bell Atlantic found, through extensive
customer surveys, that the best way to serve the needs of a diverse
customer base is through metered plans. Few people will actually use
ISDN service 24 hours a day, seven days a week, she says; in fact,
most people wonÂ’t use it much at all. So, she argues, if Bell Atlantic
offers one rate, those who rarely use the service will be subsidizing
those who use it more often (say, those obsessive geeks who stay on
the Net all day, such as, er, myself, I suppose). Â“It wouldnÂ’t be fair
to adjust the rates to [serve] just a minority of users,Â” she says.
Fair enough. But it still seems as if Bell AtlanticÂ’s ratesÂ—even its
metered ratesÂ—are higher than those elsewhere in the country,
according to phone-company figures and a CPT survey. What gives?
Apples and oranges, Rasmussen countersÂ—one company might cover a much
smaller area, or it might have many unannounced add-ons that boost the
ItÂ’s worth noting, however, that at least one state public-service
commission in Bell AtlanticÂ’s territory, DelawareÂ’s, didnÂ’t buy that
argument. It rejected Bell AtlanticÂ’s tariff proposal and approved a
sweet flat rate of $28.02 a month. (Wish I lived in Delaware.) And
perhaps the real crux of the matter is that Bell Atlantic is basing
its rates on customer surveys and current usage, at a time when ISDN
remains a novelty to all but a few. But CPT is thinking of the
futureÂ—to a time when the general public might use the Net more
frequently and for longer periods of time. So, unless enough people
squawk now, Maryland might be stuck with high ISDN rates. (Come to
think of it, maybe Bell Atlantic was thinking of the future as well.)
In any case, thereÂ’s much more to this matter than what IÂ’ve covered..
If youÂ’re a heavy Internet user, it may pay later to play concerned
citizen now. Study the proposed rates at the Bell Atlantic ISDN page
(look for the June 3 news release), study the CPT home page, and toss
in your two cents by contacting the PSC (phone: 767-8000; mail: 6 St.
Paul St., Baltimore, MD, 21202; E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org). You
might even consider showing up at the July 3 hearing (9:30 a.m. on the
16th floor of the St. Paul Street building) and making the presence of
the Internet community felt. It just may pay off a few years down the