The battle for your long distance telephone business in 1985 is taking shape.
You will hear more about it when your area receives "equal access" -- the technical term for automatic connection to the long distance carrier of your choice. At present, a telephone customer has automatic connection only to AT&T long distance service; for connection to other long distance carriers, such as MCI, the customer must dial up to 24 digits to complete a toll call.
A few Washington area residents have equal access, because of modifications that have been made in the Chesapeake and Potomac Telephone Co. equipment serving their area. Areas that will be getting equal access in 1985 include parts of downtown Washington, Congress Heights and midtown; the Maryland communities of Bethesda, Hyattsville, Gaithersburg and Rockville, and the Northern Virginia areas of Springfield, Alexandria, Herndon, Vienna, Arlington, Sterling Park and Reston.
Telephone officials say that it will take about two years to provide all consumers with "equal access."
"What this means is that customers in those areas will receive a notification from C&P about choosing a long distance provider service," said Martin A. Szostek, manager of AT&T public relations. "Then those customers will receive information from long distance companies like us giving reasons why they should choose us instead of someone else."
This is happening, he said, because of divestiture.
At stake in this growing effort to attract long distance customers is an estimated $100 billion in long distance tolls that residential and business users spend each year, Szostek said.
AT&T has had an advantage because of the automatic long distance connection provided to telephone customers. But as that advantage slips away with the customer's equal access to other long distance carriers, AT&T is scrambling to hang on to as many customers as possible.
That is why AT&T has suddenly established a promotional program in which telephone users can earn credits of $15 to $300 a month toward the purchase of everything from Arrow shirts to Trans World Airlines flights. But like all promotions, there are many qualifications to take advantage of the offer.
For example, you earn a $1 credit in the AT&T Opportunity Calling program for each $1 spent on AT&T long distance calls -- after your month's calls reach the $15 mark. If your AT&T domestic calls for the month total $18, for instance, you earn $18 in credits toward prize purchases. If your calls total $14, however, you earn no credits.
You can use your credits to get $5 off an Arrow shirt and $50 to $150 off certain TWA fares and tours. But you earn credits only by making long distance AT&T calls within the United States. Local calls and toll calls made with companies other than AT&T are excluded.
As you gird for the 1985 war over long distance service, here are some questions to ask as you shop for the best carrier for your needs:
* Does the service extend to the areas you will be calling?
* How do the rates of the various services compare, based on your calling patterns?
* Are there sign-up fees or monthly subscription charges?
* Are discounts available for calling at off-peak times?
* Can you get credit quickly if you reach a wrong number or cannot communicate because of a poor connection?
Finally, be sure to check with local consumer agencies to find out what their records show on the long distance carrier in which you are interested.