OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) -- The Oklahoma Corporation Commission said Thursday it would recommend that the Federal Communications Commission approve Southwestern Bell Telephone Co.'s request to provide long-distance service in the state.
The commission voted unanimously on the request. The FCC decides whether to allow a Bell company the right to enter long-distance service. The Justice Department, as well as the state Corporation Commission, may weigh-in on the proposal. SBC Communications Inc., which includes Southwestern Bell, has not officially filed its application with the FCC.
"Oklahomans should be able to choose 1/8Southwestern BellÃ for their long-distance service, and this agency will be able to monitor the transition to an open market in order to protect consumers and facilitate competition," Commission Chair Bob Anthony said in a release.
Jim Epperson, president of Southwestern Bell-Oklahoma, was optimistic that Bell could begin offering long-distance service by the first of the year.
Epperson said he was pleased with the commission's action. "We think the commission is calling for more and more competition, more customer choice," he said. "But at the same time, they're still very interested in protecting consumers."
Bell must prove that it has taken appropriate steps to open its local market to competition before it can secure permission to offer long-distance service in the state. The FCC earlier gave SBC Communications authority to offer long-distance service in Texas.
The commission voted came after a week of hearings on Bell's application.
A 1996 telecommunications law sought to increase competition in local markets by allowing Bell companies to offer long-distance service if they opened local service to competitors.
Epperson said Bell expects the level of local competition in the state to increase substantially.
Jim Palmer, a spokesman for the Corporation Commission, said the order approved by the commission calls for an agreement with Bell and other local exchange carriers to closely monitor the competitive process in Oklahoma.
He said the companies would meet regular and report regularly to the commission.
WorldCom Inc., another long-distance provider, criticized the commission's action. WorldCom said there was no evidence that Bell's Operations Support Systems would be able to support the order volumes that would be generated in a very competitive market.
Epperson said the same type of systems used in Texas would be used in Oklahoma. He said the systems work superbly.
"This decision fosters a sense of deja vu," said Neal Larsen, regional director of WorldCom Public Policy. "In 1997, Southwestern Bell put forth its first premature long distance application for Oklahoma, which was soundly rejected by the FCC.
Three years have passed, but Southwestern Bell has done little to advance the ball on opening its local market here."
He said the latest application is premature.
"The companies that are competing the most aggressively against us are the ones saying the market is open and we treat them fairly," Epperson said.