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AT&T ready for local phone service war

| Tuesday, June 12, 2001

Amid its battle to enter local telephone service markets, AT&T Broadband raised a flag Monday on a hill outside Pittsburgh - and certainly not the white flag.

AT&T's blue-and-white colors were raised to mark the opening of its National Service Activation Center. The office, near Pittsburgh International Airport, will support the company's challenge to Verizon Communications' dominance in the local phone business.

The three-story center is expected to employ at least 800 AT&T Broadband workers by the end of next year. The roughly 150 already there provide the administrative paperwork necessary when someone in the United States switches local phone service to AT&T.

'This facility underlines our commitment to local telephone service,' said James Ginty, president of AT&T Pennsylvania. He said sister company AT&T Broadband so far has provided more than 700,000 Americans 'with a choice of local telephone service.'

But such a choice in Pennsylvania is stymied by inadequate access to Verizon's local phone lines and related equipment, claims AT&T. That barrier to entry makes it harder for Ginty to accept the state Public Utility Commission's recent approval of Verizon's application to start offering long-distance service - AT&T's bread-and-butter business - in Pennsylvania.

Verizon's application still must be approved by the Federal Communications Commission.

'The PUC's decision last week was a joke on Pennsylvania consumers,' said Ginty after yesterday's news conference.

Verizon has not met the 14 standards required by telecommunications deregulation law, said Ginty, so it was 'premature' for the state agency to approve Verizon's entry into the long-distance market.

Meanwhile, AT&T Broadband is pressing ahead with its local service anyway. Ginty said the decision to site the office in the Pittsburgh area was made 'some time ago.' The executive expects AT&T to grow by year-end to 'well over 1 million' local-phone customers from the current roughly 700,000 in a dozen states.

The company currently offers local phone service to more than 33,000 customers in the Pittsburgh area. Those users are sending their voices over existing AT&T cable lines, which requires minimal cooperation with Verizon, said Ginty.

The airport-area office will handle a myriad of change-over functions for AT&T Broadband's new customers. Such functions include billing, connections to 911 emergency service, routing of phone calls through AT&T switching networks and the variety of telephone features, such as call-waiting.

As importantly, the facility performs the same functions on a nationwide basis as does AT&T's office in Denver. Such redundancy protects the company and its new customers from a chance black-out or snow storm disrupting Denver.

The local building will house 240 workers by year-end, and about 800 by the end of 2002.

AT&T Broadband is renovating the three-story facility in North Fayette at a cost of roughly $8 million. The facility had been occupied by the former Conrail, the freight railroad jointly acquired by Norfolk Southern Corp. and CSX Corp. in 1999.

'It seems like every time I come out to the airport corridor, someone else decides to locate out here,' said U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum during yesterday's flag-raising ceremony.

AT&T Broadband employs approximately 1,700 at its headquarters in Pittsburgh's West End. They are among the roughly 4,000 AT&T Corp. workers in western Pennsylvania.

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