ATLANTA … In its first year of providing long-distance telephone service, BellSouth (NYSE: BLS) has been ranked fourth in customer satisfaction out of 17 long-distance providers across the country, according to J.D. Power and Associates.

The Mainstream Customer Satisfaction Index of the 2003 Residential Long Distance Telephone Service Study represents approximately 80 percent of all U.S. households whose spending for long-distance service is less than $30 per month.

BellSouth also took first place in “Offerings and Promotions” and second place in “Image,” according to the study. These two categories represent 32 percent of a customer’s overall satisfaction with a long-distance provider and include a carrier’s bundled services, calling plan promotions and reputation.

“Our high ranking in this J.D. Power and Associates study shows that BellSouth’s tradition of service extends to our newest residential offering, long distance,” Ike Harris, president of BellSouth Consumer Services, said in a statement. “This is a good start and we look forward to continued improvement. We have an intense focus on increasing customer satisfaction at every point of contact between employees and customers.”

In May 2002, the Federal Communications Commission granted BellSouth its first approval to offer long-distance service in Georgia and Louisiana. By December 2002, the FCC had given the company long-distance approval in its seven other states, making it the first, and still the only, regional Bell company to offer long distance throughout its entire territory.

BellSouth reported in its first quarter earnings that the company was providing long distance service to more than 1.9 million residential and business customers. This includes approximately 13 percent of BellSouth’s residential customers, and about 24 percent of its mass market business accounts.