Bell Atlantic presses bid for long-distance services

January 22, 1994|By Michael Dresser | Michael Dresser,Staff Writer

Bell Atlantic Corp. asked the Justice Department yesterday to throw its weight behind the company's effort to lift barriers that would bar it from offering long-distance phone services after its planned acquisition of the nation's largest cable-TV company.

Meanwhile, in an effort to quell market rumors, the Philadelphia-based regional phone company told the Securities and Exchange Commission that it would not cut its dividend as a result of a merger with Tele-Communications Inc.

Paul Miller, a spokesman for Bell Atlantic, said the company's petition does not address the issue of long-distance service within its core service area, which includes Maryland. Rather, Bell Atlantic is seeking permission to offer long-distance services between local service areas that it expects to add to its network after the acquisition of TCI and its affiliated Liberty Media Corp.

Thus, if the petition was granted, Bell Atlantic might offer long-distance service between Denver and Omaha, Neb. But for calls between Baltimore and Denver, Bell Atlantic would have to hand off the call to another long-distance carrier.

To complete the TCI merger, Bell Atlantic is seeking changes in the judgment imposed by U.S. District Judge Harold Greene as part of the 1984 breakup of American Telephone & Telegraph Co. The seven regional Bell operating companies, including Bell Atlantic, are barred from providing telephone service that crosses local calling-area lines.

Bell Atlantic's petition also seeks to eliminate a provision that bars a regional Bell company from using satellites to transmit calls.

Cable companies like Liberty and TCI use satellites to deliver programming without regard to local calling areas. Bell Atlantic wants to be able to piggyback calls on those transmissions.

Bell Atlantic has been open about its desire to enter the long-distance market, using its merger with TCI as a springboard. With the addition of some equipment, cable lines can also be used to carry phone calls.

The Justice Department cannot alter the judgment by itself. But as a party to the settlement of the antitrust suit that led to the AT&T breakup, it could carry considerable influence with Judge Greene.

Bell Atlantic's request was one of two moves yesterday by regional telephone companies to try to crack the long-distance market. BellSouth Corp. said yesterday that it had filed for permission from the Federal Communications Commission to offer long-distance phone services. In seeking permission, it raised the issue of AT&T's pending $12.6 billion acquisition of McCaw Cellular Communications Inc., calling it an unfair incursion into local service without a reciprocal right of Bell companies to offer long-distance.

Bell Atlantic's filing with the SEC yesterday came after a spate of rumors of an impending cut in its dividend. Those rumors have helped drive the company's stock down about 12 percent since November.

The company also told the SEC that although there could be modifications in its merger agreement with TCI, there would likely be no major changes.

Also yesterday, Bell Atlantic reported 1993 earnings that met its projections and showed strong growth in its core businesses.

Bell Atlantic reported fourth-quarter profits of $333.1 million, or 76 cents a share, compared with $317.3 million, or 74 cents a share, for 1992's final quarter. Including charges for early debt payoffs in both quarters, earnings from continuing operations were 77 cents a share, compared with 76 cents in 1992.

Bell Atlantic Corp.

,`Ticker .. .. .. .. .. Yesterday's

Symbol .. .. .. .. .. Cls. .. Chg.

BEL .. .. .. .. .. .. 56 . .. - 3/8

Period ended

Dec. 31 . .. .. 4th qtr. .. .. Year ago .. .. Chg.

Revenue . .. .. $3,317,200 ... $3,274,200 ... +1.3%

Net Income . .. . $331,000 ... . $317,300 ... +4.3%

Primary EPS ... .. .. $.76 ... .. . $0.74 ... +2.7%

... .. .. .. .. 12 mos. ... .. Year ago .. .. Chg.

Revenue . .. .. $12,534,800 .. $12,164,600 .. +3.0%

Net Income . ... $1,403,400 ... $1,340,600 .. +4.7%

Primary EPS ... .. .. $3.22 .. .. .. $3.13 .. +2.9%

Figures in thousands (except per share data.)

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