Bell Atlantic makes plea to FCC President requests deregulation of services to business

January 29, 1998|By Mark Ribbing | Mark Ribbing,SUN STAFF

WASHINGTON -- The president of Bell Atlantic Corp., saying there is enough competition for business-related telecommunications services, yesterday called on the Federal Communications Commission to deregulate that market.

"Our state regulators are beginning to recognize that there is no justification for continuing to regulate services that are demonstrably and irrevocably competitive -- such as business and high-speed data services," Ivan Seidenberg said in a speech at the ComNet telecommunications conference.

At a news conference before his speech, Seidenberg said deregulation of business telecommunications should cover both voice and data transmissions. "It's all part of one package," he said.

Boyd Peterson, director of consumer communications for the Yankee Group in Boston, said it is unlikely that the FCC will deregulate the business market faster than the less-competitive residential market. "The FCC has said it will not deregulate piece by piece," he said.

In his address, Seidenberg also urged the Federal Communications Commission to grant New York-based Bell Atlantic's application to build Internet networks in its local-service region, which covers virtually the entire Northeast. Such networks may be illegal under current rules prohibiting Bells from offering long-distance services in the territories they dominate.

"It's time to stop applying old regulatory policies to new technologies," Seidenberg said.

Seidenberg's call for a loosening of Internet restrictions has raised eyebrows. To Peterson, the Internet is a "lightning rod" in the conflict between the Bells and the long-distance companies.

Peterson said the Bells want to use the Internet for long-distance voice communication that may fall outside current restrictions on traditional long-distance service. He said the long-distance firms want to use the Internet as a way to avoid paying for access to the Bells' phone lines.

Finally, Seidenberg's ComNet speech called for regulators to "end the guessing game" on the rules governing the Bells' entrance into the $80 billion long-distance telephone market. The Bells can shake free of their long-distance prohibitions if they open up their local markets to the satisfaction of the FCC.

So far, though, none of the Bell long-distance applications have passed this test. Critics have accused regulators of failing to set clear standards, and some of the Bells have taken the issue to court. "We do not believe that the framers of the Telecom Act envisioned that the process would become hopelessly entangled in bureaucratic snafus and inter-agency wrangling," Seidenberg said.

Analysts said Seidenberg's criticism of the long-distance approval process has some merit. "What he's calling for is not out of the question," Peterson said. "There's still some mystery in there and it's based on the way the FCC has decided to react to these applications."

Suzanne Oakley, an analyst for Cowen & Co. in Boston, said, "Judging from the fact that this matter has been in the courts for about a year and a half, that's a pretty good indication that nobody quite knows what the rules are."

However, AT&T Corp. spokeswoman Candace Humphrey said, "We do have a set of guidelines; it's called the Telecommunications Act of 1996. If Bell Atlantic would spend less time challenging the law of the land, we would have competition in the local telephone markets."

Pub Date: 1/29/98

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