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Consumers have wide range of telecom options

Telecommunications companies are keeping pace with warp speed advances. Three companies — Cellular South, MCI WorldCom and AT&T are adding products and services to their arsenals quicker than you can finish reading this issue.

CELLULAR SOUTH

For Cellular South, the slogan is appropriate for Mississippians: the home where nobody roams.

Last month, the 11-year-old cellular company introduced Digital Mississippi, a statewide calling plan to eliminate long distance and roaming charges within Mississippi.

“The impact it has on the customer is that it changes the way cellular is used in the state of Mississippi,” said Hu Meena, president of Cellular South.

Jackson-based Cellular South, a subsidiary of TELAPEX, Inc., a Mississippi company founded in 1959, has service in 82 counties with 49 retail locations and provides customers with a 24-hour service line.

Cellular South, the state’s largest provider of wireless products and services, was the first company to provide cellular service to the Mississippi Gulf Coast in 1988. Two years later, cellular service was added to 38 counties, including the Delta, Pine Belt and Golden Triangle areas.

Even though Cellular South acquired the license to operate in Jackson in 1996, the company waited until technology had advanced so they could use two different sets of frequency spectrum and either digital or analog transmissions. The flexibility provided by the two frequency sets enables the phone to pick up the most appropriate frequency, depending on the location of the cellular phone.

“The impact Cellular South has in the Metro Jackson area is that we plan further expansions in Jackson and that will create more jobs,” Meena said.

“We were also the first provider to offer wireless, home phone and long distance in a bundled package called Telepak Family,” said Tanya Rankin, manager of marketing communications. “The single billing statement is one of the most appreciated features, we’ve been told.”

Cellular South’s Internet service provider, Telepak.net, with 25 local access numbers, was unveiled last fall.

“We are hosting a technology showcase on Feb. 10 in our building at Capital Towers where we are going to present leading edge technology, mainly dealing with high speed Internet and telecommunication services,” Meena said.

MCI WORLDCOM

Jackson-based MCI WorldCom, a $30-billion global telecommunications company, plans to focus its future on the industry’s fastest segments — international, U.S. local and long distance phone services and data/Internet.

Founded in Brookhaven in 1983 with one small building and a few employees, MCI WorldCom is now the nation’s second and the world’s fourth largest telecommunications company, providing service to more than 22 million customers with more than 300 offices in 65 countries. About 100 local networks connect to more than 33,000 office buildings in the U.S.

Charles Cannada, senior vice president of corporate development, said employees’ stock options have fueled an economic boost in the state as much as the number employed. More than 1,000 workers, from entry level to senior corporate level employees, are employed at seven locations around the state.

“Stock options, which we give our employees above their salaries, have performed extremely well,” Cannada said. “A certain amount of wealth has been created up and down the line. There’s story after story of employees who have thanked Bernie for what he’s done for the company. Whether they bought their first house or sent their kids to school, they were able to do it because of the stock option plan.”

Cannada said emphasis on the company’s growth in 1999 is not focused on any one particular area.

“We have very significant initiatives going on in Brazil and Mexico,” he said. “Europe continues to be a very fast-paced, high profile area for us. We’re beginning to look at more opportunities in Asia.”

MCI WorldCom recently announced its intent to acquire an Internet company in Australia. The company has the third largest market share in the country.

“We’re building facilities in Japan and Australia,” he said. “We’re starting to look at opportunities in the Asian market, specifically the Pacific Rim.”

AT&T

Remember when General Motors’ advertising campaign slogan, “We’re not your father’s Oldsmobile,” hooked a new generation of car buyers? AT&T is banking on a similar approach.

Dispelling the myth that AT&T is more than a long distance carrier is a hurdle the telecommunications giant is struggling to overcome, said Nick Sfakianos, branch sales manager.

“A lot of people think of AT&T as a long distance provider and we’ve really got to get that out of people’s minds,” said Sfakianos. “AT&T is no longer just a long distance carrier. We’re the any-distance carrier. AT&T offers local, cellular, long distance, Internet, data, frame relay. If it has to do with communications, AT&T provides it.”

After a three-year hiatus of sorts, AT&T has reestablished its presence in Mississippi.

“We’ve always had a presence here, but we’ve been part of the Gulf States branch based in Birmingham until about three years ago, when our division was split. Mississippi and Louisiana were handled out of Houston and the state did not receive much support,” said Danny Van Velkinburgh, data networking account manager for growth market divisions of AT&T. The growth market division handles billings of $1,000 to $100,000 per month.

The company revamped its territories and Mississippi is once again based out of Birmingham.

“We rehired personnel and have a full staff again,” Velkinburgh said. “We’re back on track.”

In June, AT&T will be rolling out wireless service throughout most of the state, making Mississippi part of largest wireless network in the nation, Sfakianos said.

About Lynne W. Jeter

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