TELECOMMUTE OPTION MULLED AFTER QUAKE

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With Los Angeles roadways being even more clogged than usual in the aftermath of this month's earthquake, cellular phone operators expected a jump in usage and telecommuting advocates saw a golden opportunity to convince companies to let employees work from home.

"We expect to see an increase in telecommuting with people having 3-, 4- and 5-hour commutes," said Jack Nilles, a telecommuting advocate and consultant.

But work-from-home advocates lamented the failure of transportation officials to mention telecommuting as an alternative to post-quake commutes.

"They've got the director of transportation for Los Angeles talking about every kind of alternative but telecommut- ing," said Steve Elston, tele commuting project manager for Pacific Bell.

Pacific Bell plans a radio spot and print ad campaign from Foote, Cone & Belding, San Francisco, to tell Los Angeles residents about a new program to encourage telecommuting. To entice commuters off quake-crippled freeways, PacBell will waive installation charges on more than a dozen services for new telecommuters. It also is setting up a $1 million loan fund to outfit new home offices with a variety of equipment.

"We're sensitive that we don't want to be perceived as a shark kind of thing," Mr. Elston said. "We want it to be sort of public service kind of information."

PacBell donated $1 million to relief agencies after the quake and set up a telecommuter hot line. It will market the program through free media coverage, news releases and account reps who call on business phone customers.

Two days after the earthquake, the city of Los Angeles pulled together a task force to set up a telecommuting program for city workers. But Mr. Nilles said it will take weeks, even months, to get such programs fully operational.

With land lines down as long as days after the quake, cellular phone use jumped 25% at PacTel Cellular, said Melissa May, public relations manager, but use tailed off within days.

Neither PacTel nor McCaw Cellular-the other operator in the cellular market that vies with New York to be the largest in the U.S.-experienced much disruption of service. McCaw flew in 50 backup generators to keep its network operational during power outages, said Todd Wolfenbarger, director of corporate communications, but not that many were needed.

Both McCaw and PacTel provided free phones and airtime to public safety and relief agencies, boosting traffic on their systems.

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