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AT&T expands some customers' local calling area

From staff, AP reports

Madison Chamber of Commerce managing director Sallie Wagner has come to accept the long distance charges when calling the Decatur-Morgan County Chamber of Commerce that’s located only miles up the road.

“It’s one of those things that you just have to do — it’s kind of like pumping gas even when it’s sky high,” she said.

But Wagner and more than 20,000 other Alabama customers of AT&T will soon be free of those long distance fees when the phone carrier expands its local calling areas in Mobile, Baldwin, Washington, Madison and Morgan counties, according to the Public Service Commission.

AT&T gave the Public Service Commission notice of the expansion plan on Tuesday and commissioners approved the change, which is effective April 16 for the southern counties and May 7 for the northern counties, including the Decatur area.

PSC spokesman Clark Bruner said the changes will affect 8,000 AT&T customers in the Hunts-ville/Decatur area and at least 15,500 customers in and around Mobile/Bay Minette.

AT&T spokesperson Terri Denard said the exchanges of the affected customers were not available Tuesday night, but should be available for release later this week.

“Those customers being impacted will be notified in inserts that come with their bills,” Denard said.

The PSC’s Web site initially said BellSouth was expanding the local calling areas. But Bruner said it was being changed to AT&T, which has acquired BellSouth. Some phone bills still say BellSouth, but AT&T spokeswoman Terri Denard said that will change with the transition.

“We’ve received a lot of complaints over the years about it being long distance to call someplace that’s really close by,” Bruner said following the commission’s meeting. “I think customers wanted it and AT&T are faced with competition from other carriers, so they’re trying to retain customers.”

Calls between Bay Minette, Fairhope and Mobile are currently considered long distance and cost 12 cents per minute. Bruner said that was the highest fee in the affected areas.

“We’ve had this happen in other areas too and the commission encourages it because again we’re getting back to the old ‘rural vs. urban’ issue,” he said. “People who live outside the larger community are often doing business within the community, so it’s very beneficial to them not to have these fees.”

Wagner said some of her chamber’s 430 members are located in Decatur and it will save them money because “the way the economy is, every little penny helps.”

But she had already found a way to get around the long distance fees sometimes, she said.

“I find myself calling on my cell phone more because I do have long distance on that.

Copyright 2005 THE DECATUR DAILY. All rights reserved.
AP contributed to this report.

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