SBC Jumps On Bundling Bandwagon for SMBs

Monday Jun 23rd 2003 by Mark Berniker
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The telecommunications giant seeks to rollout local and long distance plans in California and re-files in Michigan to expand its footprint. SBC plans to deliver significant discounts to small businesses that buy bundles of voice and data communications services.

There should be no question that SBC Communications plans on targeting small businesses with low-priced, "all-you-can-eat" plans.

The San Antonio, Texas-based telecommunications giant Friday said it's offering a new unlimited local and long distance calling bundle for small businesses in California, which number in excess of one million. The new service bundle is called "Business Unlimited," the monthly fee is $58.99 for unlimited local and long distance calling.

SBC also said small business customers may also "qualify for significant discounts on a variety of other SBC Connections communications services — such as high-speed Internet access and shared Web hosting."

The company has approval to offer both local and long distance in Arkansas, California, Kansas, Missouri, Nevada, Oklahoma and Texas. The company is expected to push for regulatory approval to offer long distance in the other states within its operating region.

"SBC plans to roll out similar Business Unlimited packages/plans in the Southwest region soon, and plans to begin offering an unlimited long distance offer in Nevada as early as next week," the company said in a press release.

However, in Michigan, SBC has not had the same success. The company Thursday said it is on its way to resolving the issues that could lead to offering similar local and long distance bundles in the Wolverine State.

To that end, SBC Michigan says the company has re-filed its application with the FCC for a third time in its bid to offer long distance voice and data services.

SBC's regulatory application was modified, after billing problems surfaced with companies competing for customers in its local loop. SBC was quick to herald the arrival of local competition in Michigan, in its latest bid to offer long distance, as well.

"Already, more than two million SBC Michigan access lines are served by competitors — we have undoubtedly opened our markets to greater competition in local service," SBC President William Daly said in a statement.

But SBC has already been turned down twice by Michigan regulators in its bid to enter the long distance market. One of the reasons for the prior regulatory refusals was due to billing problems, which the company says it has fixed.

At issue is whether SBC properly billed competitors leasing telecommunications lines on its network. Back in April, FCC Chairman Michael Powell said SBC was not likely to get approval because of previous billing errors, leading the company to withdraw its long distance application in Michigan.

SBC says its accounting firm Ernst & Young has conducted an audit making sure that no billing errors will be repeated in the future.

Under the terms of The 1996 Telecommunications Act, the four regional telephone companies were mandated to open their local phone networks in their home territories to rivals, before they would be allowed to offer long distance services.

As part of the rules under the Telecom Act, SBC and the other regional telephone companies must pass a 14-point checklist, as mandated by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), which reveal the telcos have given rivals unfettered access to the physical networks, along with database, which handle billing and metering.

The FCC has said it will rule on SBC's Michigan long distance application by Sept. 17 and will be receiving opinions from both state and federal officials.

SBC, in its press release, pointed out that this week the Michigan Public Service Commission's third annual report on the status of telecommunications competition in the state was released.

SBC quoted MPSC Chairman Laura Chappelle saying "competition in the basic local exchange industry is growing ... in addition, Michigan customers are benefiting from innovative bundling of services and new pricing plans for local and toll services that include wireless and Internet access services."

Adapted from internetnews.com.

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