Bells Welcome Bill, Long-Distance Firms Decry It

From Bloomberg Business News

The Senate's passage of a sweeping telecommunications overhaul Thursday was a big victory for the seven regional Bell companies because it would eventually free them to enter new lines of business.

However, telecommunications revisions must also pass the House, and that chamber has a different bill, which long-distance providers such as AT&T; Corp., MCI Communications Corp. and Sprint Corp. favor over the Senate version.

That sets up another battle between powerful lobbies before any telecommunications bill becomes law.

Under the Senate plan, a local phone company such as Bell Atlantic Corp. would be allowed to offer long-distance service throughout the country in competition with AT&T;, as well as cable TV service in competition with companies such as Time Warner Inc.

According to the plan, the Bells could begin offering long-distance service as soon as they meet a series of 14 tests proving they have opened their local markets up to competition from outsiders.

The long-distance companies say the Senate bill doesn't do enough to force the Bells to open their networks before expanding into new lines of business. Without tougher rules, they argue, the Bells will be able to unfairly use their local phone monopolies to shut out rivals.

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