A call by northeast Layton residents for toll-free telephone access to Salt Lake City may be answered with a proposal for metered, rather than flat-rate fees for Utah consumers.

Utahns have traditionally fought the concept of metered telephone service, in which subscribers are charged on a per-call basis rather than the usual monthly flat-rate fee for unlimited calling within specified local service areas.The Layton request is essentially a "me too" issue. Most Layton residents already have toll-free access to Salt Lake City. Those living in the northeast sector say they want the same service enjoyed by their neighbors.

The controversy isn't limited to Utah. It is national in scope and the trend in other metropolitan areas with essentially wall-to-wall cities like the Wasatch Front has been a shift to specially designed metered services. Telephone companies said this solution is the most equitable approach, placing the cost burden on those using the service and eliminating the need for subsidies from those requiring less service.

Utahns are used to the flat-rate concept, which makes access to specific calling areas available to all users for a common monthly fee. This benefits those who use the telephone heavily but is not cost effective for those who make few calls. The fee is kept lower because the cost of service is spread over a large population.

When metered service is used, the base rate is geared to a specific number of calls. The basic monthly fee entitles customers to a predetermined number of calls within the local service area. Consumers pay extra for any additional calls. Telephone companies believe this concept is more equitable because billings are made on the basis of actual use.

Southern Bell is at the forefront in developing metered calling options. At a recent telecommunications symposium sponsored by the University of Utah, Southern Bell officials explained a new program that provides various metered services with discounted toll rates into nearby major metropolitan markets.

Several options are available, some tailored to benefit commercial users and others designed for residential customers. The company is promoting the program by contacting customers to recommend options and then following up to make adjustments once calling patterns and usage have been analyzed. Southern Bell officials say the response has been good thus far.

Telecommunications officials hope continued success and consumer acceptance will eventually put an end to the extended area service controversy.