A Feb. 21 Business section article incorrectly stated Stickdog Telecom Inc.'s plans for its Internet access service. The company will continue offering that service. (Published 2/22/03)

Stickdog Telecom Inc. is getting out of the local phone business, forcing 2,800 residential customers in Northern Virginia to look for a new carrier.

The Vienna company is asking those customers to find a new provider by the end of March. Stickdog has 500 clients in Maryland and will end its service there in the next couple of months.

Stickdog said it is also ending its dial-up and DSL Internet services.

The privately owned firm, founded in 1997, bought telecom service at a discount from Verizon Communications Inc. and resold it to individual clients, but outstanding debts to the industry giant caused Stickdog to exit the business.

Competitive local exchange carriers (CLECs) like Stickdog cropped up after the Telecommunications Act of 1996, which was intended to promote competition in an industry dominated by a few major players. But many of those young companies have struggled for reasons including dependence on the dominant providers they purchase service from and skepticism from customers.

"We've always had outstanding bills with Verizon, but until last October, we had a method of working with them. . . . About once a year we'd have an adjustment to deal with their various problems," said Marion Spina, Stickdog's founder and chief executive. "We had problems every single step along the way. Their systems just are not accurate enough to provide a high level of service in the first place and certainly not to the wholesale provider, with whom they have a less than mission-critical desire to serve."

Paul Miller, a Verizon spokesman, said Stickdog "owed us a great deal of money."

"We've heard this kind of tune from other CLECs who have run into financial troubles. This sounds like an excuse," Miller said in response to Spina's comments. "At some point we have to disconnect. . . . We can only work with a customer for so long."

Yesterday the Virginia State Corporation Commission issued a notice to alert Stickdog clients that it had allowed the company to get out of the local telecom market. Spina said it will stop serving customers in early April.

"Anything we can do to help customers start shopping now . . . that prevents them from losing a dial tone," said Ken Shrad, a spokesman for the commission.

Spina said the company is calling many of its customers to help them find a new carrier. Stickdog customers can choose from at least three other companies that provide local service in the area -- MCI, Verizon and Cavalier Telephone.

The firm pared its payroll to 13 employees from a peak of 28 a few months ago and will continue to provide telecom consulting service on a small scale, Spina said.

As of Dec. 31, 186 CLECs have been certified by Virginia, but only 60 of those are actually providing telecom services, according to the corporation commission. Two dozen of those are willing to offer residential telecom service in Northern Virginia, Shrad said.