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Phone companies seek legislative compromise


Several senators are seeking consensus over legislation that would overhaul the 60-year-old law governing the nation's telecommunications industry, possibly easing the regional phone companies' entry into the long-distance business.

According to people in both industries, Louisiana Democratic Sen. John B. Breaux and Mississippi Republican Sen. Trent Lott are trying to negotiate a compromise that would be less repugnant to the regional Bell operating companies than the approach favored by Sen. Ernest F. Hollings, the South Carolina Democrat who heads the Commerce Committee.

Meanwhile, Sen. Bob Dole, the Republican leader, was circulating his own draft of a highly deregulatory bill that would come down strongly on the side of the Bell companies, said Gerald M. Lowrie, AT&T; Corp. senior vice president for government affairs.

Mr. Hollings' bill sets high barriers to the Bell companies' entry into the long-distance market in their own regions, requiring that competition for local phone service be in place before they get the green light to offer long-distance service.

The regional Bells prefer a less-restrictive version of the bill that passed the House early this month.

According to Mr. Lowrie, Mr. Hollings has tentatively agreed to drop some of the broader restrictions on the Bells in favor of setting specific conditions they would have to meet to get into the long-distance business.

Ward White, vice president for government and public affairs of the United States Telephone Association (USTA), said the Bell companies were looking over draft language of the proposed compromise yesterday.

"The preconditions they put in that bill, I don't know if the Bell companies will accept," Mr. White said.

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