With the exception of lowering phone rates, any changes 75-year-old Mountain Bell tries don't come easily.

Efforts to deregulate phone services end up in lengthy regulatory hearings, while a recent attempt to circumvent that route resulted in an ugly Legislative battle.And although Mountain Bell's most recent change won't likely meet with protests, it's going to take a few years to pull it off.

The longtime phone utility is in the process of changing its name to US WEST Communications as part of the parent company's plan to drop the Bell name from its three phone companies and restructure them into a single corporate identity.

It's not the first time Utah's largest phone company has changed its name. The official switch from Mountain States Telephone and Telegraph to Mountain Bell was in 1969, and the Mountain States name was adopted in place of Rocky Mountain Bell around 1910.

But, Bell officials realize the ingrained relationship between phone service and the Bell name, so they plan to patiently, and cost effectively, phase in the switch over the next four to five years as supplies, vehicles and signs run out or need replacing.

"The actual impact on customers will be minimal as a result of the name change," said Kirk Nelson, Mountain Bell assistant vice president of external affairs.

Beginning in July, phone bills will initially bear both monikers and operators will greet callers by the new name. But to avoid confusion, an extensive advertising campaign will begin in June.

Bell's parent US WEST Inc. believes the change will improve customer service and perception by placing all of its phone services under one name.

"The new name and market emphasis recognizes that many customers, especially our multi-state customers, are dealing with one company," US WEST President Dick McCormick said.

Mountain Bell is just one of US WEST's telephone companies having its name changed. Northwestern Bell and Pacific Northwest Bell will also officially begin doing business as US WEST Communications in July.

Officials from US WEST's Denver headquarters said the company-wide change is part of a program to combine strengths of all three phone entities to consolidate customer service and marketing in its 14-state service area.

US WEST believes it could respond easier to customer needs if its telecommunications services were organized around specific customer groups or markets, McCormick said, rather than by geography, products or regulatory jurisdictions.

However, McCormick said the phone companies will use their former names in legal and regulatory filings, but do business as US WEST Communications.

As part of the new approach, US WEST's telephone companies have consolidated their operations. Groups have been formed to serve residential customers, business customers, government and education, long distance companies and other customer groups.