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Ma Bell Wrests AAA's Service Back From Bells

AAA, the household name for roadside assistance and travel in the U.S., penned a three-year, $138 million deal Monday with AT&T , putting local voice services back in the hands of Ma Bell and potentially out of the hands of Baby Bells.

Ma Bell had been a key contractor throughout AAA's 100 years of service, providing local and toll-free phone services. That is, until a judge in 1984 broke AT&T into long-distance (AT&T) and local-service components (the four Bells today -- Verizon Communications , SBC Communications , Qwest Communications and BellSouth ).

It's come full circle, now that AT&T is free to offer local services again. According to Ruthlyn Newell, AT&T spokesperson, local phone services at AAA have been largely held by the Baby Bells since the breakup. "It's a nice enhancement, getting the contract with AAA (again)," she said.

The local service switch can begin immediately, she said, though a timetable for individual clubs is not set in stone. The switch is not even mandatory, though the cost benefits are with AT&T, Newell said.

AT&T also provides toll-free, data center, frame relay and asynchronous transfer mode (ATM) services as part of its existing contract.

AAA, with member clubs (broken down by state) throughout the U.S. and Canada, has 45 million members, who either call in or access the organization's Web site for roadside assistance, travel maps and information.