AT&T has won a hotly contested pay telephone contract at Salt Lake International Airport. But the loser, MCI, won't give up.

"We are filing a formal protest," MCI branch manager Judy Adams said.She contends that despite competitive bidding for the lucrative contract, the Salt Lake City Airport Authority's bid process was biased toward AT&T.

In its offer, AT&T guaranteed the airport a minimum $1.39 million over five years - 21 percent of an estimated $7.32 million in long distance calls placed throegh AT&T on airport pay phones.

MCI guaranteed a minimum $1.41 million over five years - 28-29 percent of an estimated $4.86 million in long distance calls placed through MCI at the airport pay phones.

The airport would not receive a commission for calls placed through a carrier other than the long distance company with the contract. But airport director Louis Miller said the authority contacted 18 airports that had dropped AT&T for another carrier and found an average 30 percent drop in phone revenue to the airports. That finding implies callers continued to use AT&T, while the airport received less revenue because fewer people used the new phone company.

In addition to revenues, the authority also considered customer service and maintenance. And according to Miller, bid information showed AT&T guaranteed superior service.

Miller was seconded by authority board chairman Pat Shea, who told the board last week he had "strong personal feelings" that going with AT&T was in the best interest of concumers.

"MCI is not responsive to consumer complaints," he said, citing personal experience with the long distance carrier.

The board unanimously approved AT&T as the airport's new pay phone vendor. U.S. West Communications was uncontested in its winning bid for phone equipment and all in-state phone service. The selections now go to Salt Lake City Mayor Palmer DePaulis for final approval.

Shea warned MCI that it shouldn't think that by going to the mayor or City Council that it could "short circuit" the board's decision on what has become a two-year controversy over who should provide long distance service for the airport's 260 pay phones.

About two years ago, the airport authority took heat from MCI and U.S. Sprint for awarding the pay phone contract to AT&T without receiving other bids. Miller responded then that the airport was simply buying some time to examine the issue before it placed the contract out for competitive bid.

"It's been a long and involved process," Shea said.

But Adams, who later took exception to Shea publicly airing a "personal bone to pick" with MCI, said her legal counsel is preparing a protest to present to Salt Lake City, complaining about the bidding process.

"We felt the decision was made beforehand, and some of the things they brought up didn't matter," she said, claiming MCI can offer the same customer service as AT&T and other competitors.

Apparently, Salt Lake International is not the only airport where MCI and AT&T have gone to battle in the war for airport pay phone service - a $2 billion industry and top revenue source for phone companies.

The only battle MCI has won so far, however, is at Philadelphia International. Adams said that is because most of the bid specs - including those from Salt Lake International - are written for an AT&T response, making applications from competing vendors appear incomplete and inadequate.