As a result of the $30 billion merger between Bell Atlantic Corp. and Tele-Communications Inc., eight local cable systems currently owned by TCI will be sold off by the end of next year.
The sales would eliminate a potential conflict between Bell Atlantic and federal regulators, who might object to Bell Atlantic controlling both the phone and cable service in the same area.
"We don't want that cloud over the merger," said Bell Atlantic spokesman Dave Pacholczyk.
Bell Atlantic currently provides phone service in Maryland through the Chesapeake & Potomac Telephone Co. of Maryland. TCI owns eight cable companies in Maryland: United Artists Entertainment units in Baltimore, Annapolis, Berlin and Ocean City; American Cable stations in Hollywood and Lexington Park; and TCI Cablevision of Maryland in Cumberland and Elkton.
Either before the merger is complete or just after, TCI or the newly enlarged Bell Atlantic will sell off the eight cable systems, Mr. Pacholczyk said.
Aside from its concerns about regulators, Mr. Pacholczyk said, Bell Atlantic believes that consumers should have the choice of "two wires into the home" -- telephone and cable wires offered by separate companies.
Bell Atlantic does not provide phone service outside the mid-Atlantic region and so will retain the TCI properties in those areas, which include cable companies serving a quarter of U.S. households.
Regulatory concerns might also force Bell Atlantic to spin off other parts of its new purchases, but that move would depend on decisions made in Washington.
The Bell Atlantic-TCI merger is expected to be completed in about a year.