AT&T; Seeking Videotex Partners

Times Staff Writer

American Telephone & Telegraph Co. said Tuesday that it is seeking to form a joint venture to provide videotex banking and other financial services nationally to consumers and small businesses.

A spokesman for AT&T; declined to identify other possible participants, saying that "we're talking to a number of companies, and the number of participants may get larger or smaller."

Several industry sources said the deal as now discussed would include AT&T; and New York's Chemical Bank as principal partners, with Time Inc. and Bank of America holding smaller stakes.

Michael Tarpe, an AT&T; spokesman, said that, unlike several other videotex services now in operation, the venture would not offer the news or advertising content that he said is generally defined as "electronic publishing."

For that reason, he contended that AT&T; would not need to seek an amendment to the federal court order that, in breaking up the telephone company, barred it from transmitting such information on its own telecommunications system. "We won't do anything to violate the order as it stands," he said.

Newspaper publishers have been nervous about AT&T;'s declared interest in videotex and might oppose any foray by the telephone giant into information distribution.

Spokesmen for Chemical Bank and Time Inc. declined comment. A Bank of America spokesman said only that the bank has "ongoing discussions with a lot of companies about a lot of opportunities."

Local videotex services include the Gateway system of Times Mirror Co., parent of the Los Angeles Times, and, in Miami, the Viewtron system of Viewdata Corp., a unit of the Knight-Ridder newspaper chain. Sears, Roebuck & Co., CBS Inc. and International Business Machines Corp. are forming a videotex venture that is to begin operation sometime after the beginning of next year. Another such venture is being formed by RCA Corp., Citicorp and J. C. Penney Co.

Some analysts contend that the public's interest in videotex is still unproven. The spokesman said AT&T; is interested in offering financial services because public-opinion testing has shown a "high degree of interest."

The venture under consideration would join the two largest home-computer-based banking operations. Chemical Bank's home-banking service was the first in the United States when it was begun in September, 1983; it now has 23,000 subscribers in 17,000 households, the bank says. Eight other banks, including Crocker, operate the Chemical system under a license.

For a $12 monthly fee, users can transfer funds, pay bills, check balances and send messages to other users via "electronic mail."

Bank of America's home banking service was launched in December, 1982, and has 16,000 subscribers in Northern and Southern California.

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