TELECOM WATCH

B>FEDERal layoffs: The Federal Communications Commission last week proposed laying off 180 employees and eliminating 12 regional and field offices in the face of major budget cuts. While the FCC had requested $225 million for fiscal year 1996, the House voted to only give it $185 million. The Senate has yet to weigh in.

The layoffs proposed by FCC Commissioner Reed Hundt would represent the first reduction in force ever at the FCC. Early retirement has been offered to 130 employees; 81 have already agreed to take that route. About 50 people will be involuntarily let go, the FCC estimated.
Regional offices in Atlanta, Boston and Seattle are slated to be closed, as well as nine field offices. To absorb some of those offices' duties, FCC plans to add a new call center where the public can call toll-free to reach the agency for information or assistance.

Are you out there, AT&T? MCI has the lowest prices among the big three long distance carriers, according to Consumer Reports' September issue, which analyzes the pros and cons of AT&T, Sprint and MCI. The story, titled "How to Save on Long Distance Calls," is likely to cause many people to switch carriers. Because the magazine is published by Consumers Union, a non-profit independent group, and doesn't take advertising, many consider it to be the definitive, unbiased source on all things consumer.

Phone users can shave 25 percent to 30 percent off basic rates with MCI's "New Friends & Family" and AT&T's "True Savings" plans, according to the article. MCI customers can get the biggest savings -- 50 percent -- when they call other MCI customers. In addition, MCI's basic pricing is slightly lower, Consumer Reports noted.
The study also found that only one-third of all phone users are enrolled in a calling plan, although everyone could save money by joining one. The best phone plans, it said, are usually the newest. While the most popular AT&T calling plan, for example, is "True USA Savings," phone users spending less than $75 a month on calls would pay less on the newer "True Savings" plan.
The article blasted the carriers' combative advertising campaigns. Together, the three spend $1.2 billion on advertising, it said. But, the study noted, that advertising is less than honest.
In MCI's "put it in writing ad" the proof of savings statement mentioned actually compares discounted MCI rates to full basic rates from AT&T.
Sprint spokesperson Candice Bergen promises consumers that "No matter how far away, it's just 10 cents a minute with Sprint Sense." Not quite, said Consumer Reports. That rate applies only from 7 p.m to 7 a.m. and on weekends. That information is printed on the bottom of the screen but not spoken in the ad. The daytime rate, the article notes, is more than twice as much. That leaves AT&T. Consumer Reports criticized its commercial starring David Schwimmer from the TV sitcom "Friends," who says: "This calling circle thing is too much for me. The TV ads. They're calling me at home. My terrier is less tenacious." The study points out that at $700 million a year, AT&T spends the most on ads.

Wireless Comes to Washington: American Personal Communications Inc. Bethesda, Md., which plans to be the first company to introduce a new digital wireless technology to consumers later this year, has signed a $10 million contract with Nokia Mobile Phones Inc. for wireless handsets. APC expects to offer personal communications services to a population base of 8 million people in the Washington, D.C., area.


Cough up the dough: Looks like Ameritech will have to pay the Federal Communications Commission $200,000 for not getting the agency's permission to build a cable franchise in Plymouth Township, Mich. According to the Communications Act, carriers must get FCC approval before constructing, extending or acquiring a new line, including a cable television system. Ameritech has 30 days to defend its actions or cough up the forfeiture money.


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