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Long-distance firms to fight 4 Baby Bells


WASHINGTON -- A coalition of long-distance companies including AT&T;, Sprint and MCI vowed yesterday to fight the four Bell operating companies that are trying to enter the long-distance and telecommunications manufacturing arena.

"We're going to put the facts on the table, counter them and do the best we can to oppose it," said Al McGann, president of the Competitive Long Distance Coalition.

The Bell companies -- Bell Atlantic, BellSouth, Nynex and Southwestern Bell -- filed a motion in U.S. District Court yesterday to vacate the decree that broke up the Bell System in 1984 and created seven regional Bell companies.

Under the settlement that broke up AT&T;, the parent was deemed a long-distance and equipment manufacturing company while the regional Bells were given the market for local telephone service.

"The decree . . . is now hampering rather than helping foster competition," said Peter Huber, a telecommunications lawyer at the Washington law firm of Kellogg, Huber & Hansen. "It's outlived its usefulness, and needs to be eliminated before it permanently stifles competitive growth in the industry."

But consumer groups denounced the Bells' attempts and said the filing was a ploy to speed up legislation in the Senate before the August recess. The House voted last week to let the Baby Bells compete against long-distance phone carriers and cable-television operators.

The bipartisan Senate bill is seen as a much tougher piece of legislation, as it would not allow the Baby Bells to compete with long-distance carriers until there is more competition among local carriers.

Mr. Huber said the four companies were simply pursuing "parallel tracks" by filing the motion while legislation is pending. However, long-distance companies said the four were trying to undercut congressional telecommunications legislation and to extend into an industry while preserving a monopoly on their own services.

"No matter how many motions they file or how many consultants they pay to mouth the party line, the Bells can't change the fact that the local telephone market is still a Bell monopoly, and consumers still have no choice when it comes to local service," said Mr. McGann, referring to the affidavits filed by 47 economists in support of the motion.

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