One Bill Fits All

One-stop shopping's big perk is the all-inclusive communications invoice

It's hard to get excited about billing. Everyone hates to pay bills; businesses dread plowing through hundreds of invoices every month. That's just what AT&T, Basking Ridge, N.J., and MCI Communications Corp., Washington, D.C., are counting on as they launch a "one bill for all" strategy for business customers.

Even before the Telecommunications Act of 1996 was signed into law by President Clinton in February, industry consensus said telcos will need to provide a one-stop shopping outlet for a range of services, including long distance, local telephone, international calling, paging, Internet and cellular.

The real draw for businesses to choose one company, besides any discount offered, is the simplicity of getting one bill. As the telco competition heats up, companies are looking for any edge they can get. The single bill for businesses will eventually become a given, like dial tone itself.

On Sept. 12, MCI made a splashy announcement, offering a business any communications service it needs, and at the end of the month, MCI send the company one invoice. That may sound simply logical, but it's a big step for some telcos. It's not just the bill involved: MCI will draw up one communications contract for each business customer, and a single MCI salesperson will handle the relationship.

MCI claims that its years of developing strategic marketing and development alliances put it in the best spot for offering it all. MCI, which has long been criticized by analysts for partnering promiscuously, now looks like it had been planning its networkMCI One strategy all along.

"Many telecom companies are just beginning to catch on -- frantically merging and spending billions of dollars in acquisitions to get where MCI is today," claimed Brian Brewer, MCI's vice president for business marketing, in making the announcement.

Six days after MCI's announcement, AT&T came out with one bill for businesses. Its service, similar to MCI's, is called AT&T.ALL. AT&T business customers can just call the company and have all their current contracts switched to one invoice. That way, customers have more flexibility, said Dan Schulman, AT&T vice president for marketing of business services.

For its part, Sprint came out with a joint marketing deal with Sprint Spectrum and Radio Shack on Sept. 11. Theirs is a different kind of one-stop shopping. People can go into a Radio Shack store and buy Sprint and Sprint Spectrum brand products. Customers will be also be able to sign up for wireless, paging, Internet and telephone services through Sprint at their neighborhood Radio Shack. The store will also act as a main outlet for Sprint's PCS, or personal communications services wireless telephone offering, now only available in Washington, D.C.

Farther down the line, industry watchers expect bills to include utilities, cable and other services. This amounts to a new niche for the integrators that figure out billing systems. Even simplifying means work for someone.

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