The Coastal Post - December, the six-day event.

Is Pacific Bell Healthy Competition?

By Karen Kerrigan

President Small Business Survival Committee

We often hear how small businesses provide the most dynamic spark to the engine of economic growth-creating the bulk of new jobs and new ideas as our economy moves into the information age. This is especially true in California, where the number of small start-up companies has grown dramatically in recent years.

One reason this has occurred is because California's economy remains reasonably healthy despite the prevalence of government obstacles that hurt its competitiveness as compared to other states. A talented labor pool, access to foreign markets, and a strong spirit of entrepreneurship have made the state's economy strong. In addition, state policy-makers have consciously pushed competition by breaking up the last of the private sector monopolies, such as the utility industry.

Unfortunately, there's still one big monopoly left, Pacific Bell, and its chokehold over local telephone service provides a genuine threat to California's economic well-being.

Have you ever talked to a California business that's tried to get a new line installed? Or tried to get someone from Pac Bell to come at a specific time to repair equipment? Or tried to talk to a customer service representative without spending an eternity on hold?

These are the types of problems that drive small business people crazy. They should be selling produces, servicing customers, growing their business and creating jobs-not waiting around all day for repair crews who never show up.

California's largest phone company subjects small businesses and consumers alike to this take-it-or-leave-it attitude. In spite of the efforts of Congress, the FCC, the state legislature and the California Public Utilities Commission, competition for local phone service has yet to take hold in California. And as a result, Californians are getting the short end of the stick when it comes to local telephone service, as well as the tangential benefits that accompany a newly-deregulated industry.

Competition will offer consumers and small businesses alike an entirely new array of competitive pricing, improved service and a more rapid introduction of new products and telecommunication services. But unfortunately, Pacific Bell and its new parent, SBC of Texas, have developed a nationwide reputation as the most anti-competitive of the regional phone companies.

In fact, after having had a major part in crafting the 1996 Telecommunications Act and lobbying heavily to get it passed, SBC has filed a lawsuit attempting to have the act declared unconstitutional. Seldom has a corporate giant acted in a more petulant manner. And who pays for all these expensive lawyers and lobbyists? The consumer, including the local phone monopoly's profitable small business market.

What to do? We need to let the proper authorities know that we want better service and competitive pricing in local phone service, the gateway to the information age. Our elected officials in both the governor's office and the legislature need to know California's small businesses want local competition, are disturbed by the anti-competitive behavior of Pac Bell, and think it's time for someone to stand up to the big monopoly.

Telecomputing, the internet, e-mail, conference calls, home fax machines, personal communication services-these are just a few of the new telecommunications products that have improved productivity and allowed many people to start their own businesses. We often take the phone on the desk for granted. The monopoly behind that phone wants you to continue doing so. California's small businesses owe it to both customers and themselves to force the monopolies into the 21st Century.

After all, small businesses have to compete. Why can't Pac Bell?

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