The American Telephone and Telegraph Co. asked the Federal Communications Commission yesterday for permission to make more money -- without raising rates to consumers.

In a petition filed with the FCC, the Bell System proposed to increase its profitability and meet its huge annual financing needs through the introduction of new technology and the sale of more long-distance services, instead of raising basic telephone charges.

The FCC allows the huge communications company to earn between 9.5 and 10 percent on its earnings, and had issued a warning to the company that it had earned slightly higher than 10 percent in 1978.

What the Bell System is seeking to avoid is a forced rate reduction that could be mandated if it failed to lower its return on investment.

AT&T formally asked the commission to raise its earning ceiling to 10.38 percent on an interim basis and to between 11 and 12 percent at some later date.

The company contended in its filing that its earnings would have to improve because it is entering into a new era of competition, and because under current economic conditions investors expect significantly higher returns on their investments.

Adding to investors' perceptions of risks associated with AT&T, are "regulatory lag and our inability to reprice as fast or flexibly as nonregulated companies," said AT&T Vice President James R. Billingsly.

"Furthernore -- and not surprisingly -- investors perceive that growing competition, focused as it is on the most profitable areas of our business, significantly increases the risk of investment," Billingsley added.

He said the Bell System "must offer investors the prospect of earnings reasonably competitive with those they could get from investments of equivalent risk and opportunity," in order to attract between $3 billion and $4 billion in new money each year to finance construction.