AT&T Phone Efforts Get Assist in Pennsylvania

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HARRISBURG, PA. -AT&T Corp. got a holiday boost in Pennsylvania the week before Christmas, when local regulators voted to drop an impediment that kept the company from expanding cable telephony there.

The state Public Utility Commission had a policy that protected small rural telephone companies from competition. However, the commission voted Dec. 20 to reverse the policy and support facilities-based competition and to allow larger companies to compete unless regulators find a "compelling need" to shelter a smaller company.

The pre-existing policy kept the telephone giant from deploying cable telephony around Pittsburgh because seven small companies, including Alltel, North Pittsburgh Telephone Co. and Yukon Waltz Telephone Co., got regulators to stymie deployment. They argued AT&T needed to meet the "public necessity" test.

Representatives from Yukon Waltz claimed they could lose half of their rate-payer base of 1,000 in Westmoreland County if AT&T moved in.

But regulators said they want rural homeowners to have access to technological advances and voiced their support for facilities-based competitors by changing the standard. New entrants now only need prove they have the technical capability to offer competitive service.

AT&T already has an estimated 45,000 cable phone customers in the area, according to public statements by the company. They are in Pittsburgh suburbs and were poached mainly from Verizon. The policy change could add 30,000 homes to the potential cable-telephony customer base.

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