State's Internet Users Suffer Rate Disadvantage

by Marc Oliver

AMERICANS are already using e-mail more than the U.S. mail, and data bits exceed voice bits over the telephone system. Computer unit sales now exceed unit sales of televisions for the first time.

The picture is clear: technology is rapidly changing the way Americans work-and play.

Given these changes, technologically retarded states can be expected to suffer economically, as they will be less able to compete in the best job sectors.

Maryland may be in trouble.

Unless the People's Counsel of the Public Service Commission of Maryland can successfully push through an improved residential rate structure for higher-speed digital communications at competitive costs, Maryland stands to lose out to its neighbors when it comes to attracting and keeping technologically sophisticated residents.

The issue here is the rate structure for ISDN lines (which stands for Integrated Services Digital Network). ISDN lines allow information to be transferred digitally at speeds four to five times faster than those available even on the very fastest analog modems.

The ISDN's high bandwidth technology is available over Marylanders' phone lines, but the catch is that the rate charged by Bell Atlantic to use it is very high. That's because, at present, the Public Service Commission defines residential ISDN as a "discretionary" service-in other words, a luxury. As such, Bell Atlantic can charge residential customers in Maryland $236 per month for ISDN service-or $2,832 per year. Delaware residents using Bell Atlantic, by contrast, will be paying only $28.02 a month under their newly approved rate structure. That means a Marylander wanting ISDN access could save about $2,500 per year just by moving across the state line.

This inequity has caught the notice of the Office of the People's Counsel of the PSC, which is charged with looking out for the consumer's best interests where rates are concerned. Theresa Czarski, one of the nine staff attorneys employed by this office, is handling the case.

Following a pre-hearing conference on this matter held on July 29, the PSC has scheduled public hearings on rates for Bell Atlantic-Maryland, Inc.'s residential ISDN service. These will be held on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday, October 16, 17, and 18. These hearings will be held at 10 a.m. each day in the 19th floor Hearing Room at 6 St. Paul Street.

The public is encouraged to communicate with the Office of the People's Counsel about this matter; write to Ms. Theresa Czarski, Esq., Office of the People's Counsel, Public Service Commission, 6 St. Paul St., Baltimore, MD 21202-6806. Call 767-8000.

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This story was published on Wednesday, August 7, 1996.