Bell Atlantic as one of the big boys Nynex merger: Conglomerate ready to compete with AT&T or anyone else.

April 24, 1996

NO LONGER A BABY, Bell Atlantic has grown up to be a telecommunications colossus that in merging with Nynex will embrace the Maine-to-Virginia seaboard -- a region aptly described by one of the architects of this $23 billion deal as "the most lucrative market on the face of the Earth."

Superlatives abound is describing almost any aspect of this transaction. But until it passes muster with the Justice Department's anti-trust division, the Federal Communications Commission, utility watchdog agencies in a dozen states and courts where challenges will be filed, it is better to hold the champagne. It was Bell Atlantic, after all, that saw its proposed 1993 acquisition of TCI fall apart.

With local and long distance telephone companies, cable TV operators, computer giants, power companies, the entertainment industry and others eager to get into the action, today's assumptions often become tomorrow's repudiations. Technology, law, regulatory rules and market expectations create constant churn.

Yet in the case of the Bell Atlantic-Nynex merger, there is a sense of inevitability. By combining two adjoining regional Baby Bells, the successor company will achieve the sheer heft it needs to go after the long-distance market now dominated by AT&T, MCI and Sprint while defending its local telephone franchise from the expected incursions of these same companies.

In the telecommunications free-for-all enshrined in recent legislation, companies once highly regulated in separate niches can now go at one another with few holds barred. The ostensible goal is greater competition. While Bell Atlantic-Nynex executives say the yelps of pain from AT&T and MCI demonstrate that their merger is "pro-competitive," their critics contend it is "anti-competitive" in that the two Baby Bells will no longer be rivals.

For Marylanders, Bell Atlantic's growth spurt is not expected to result in any early change in local phone bills. Every effort should be made to protect the interests of consumers -- perhaps by opening the local phone market to all comers while reducing local charges on long distance calls.

If competition is what the nation wants, then real competition it should be. And that includes everything on the information super-highway. The Maryland Public Service Commission should give this deal -- and all its implications -- the closest scrutiny.

Pub Date: 4/24/96

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