Members of the House Commerce Committee may have made a major advance in their effort to put together legislation revising the structure and regulation of the telephone industry.
Since the legislation was passed by the House communicataions subcommittee more than two months ago, talks aimed at bringing the controversial bill before the full ccommittee have been deadlocked over the future structure of American Telephone & Telegraph Co.
With the help of Carter administration inflation fighter Alfred Kahn and top administration communications policy-maker Henry Geller, the committee has come up with legislative language that a key player in the debate Rep. Timothy Wirth (D-Colo.), says may resolve the question.
In a letter sent to Commerce Committee members last week, Wirth said he will support the compromise to get the legislation "back on track."
The new amendment to the communications bill provides "significant protections" against cross-subsidies between regulated and unregulated Bell System subsidiaries and mandates "arms-length and information requirements" when AT&T handles those monopoly and competitive services, Wirth wrote.
Further, the amendment lifts restrictions in earlier proposals about information flows between the subsidiaries, but also forces AT&T to get Federal Communications Commission approval of its operation under these interim restrictions before the industry moves toward deregulation.
In essence, the proposal would force AT&T to draw a line between the Bell System's research and development and manufacturing activities and its sales operations in the hopes of preventing discriminatory pricing practices.
Products or services that move from the regulated side of Bell companies to unregulated markets would have to be made available to other firms under the same conditions or price structure.
A series of time periods are included in the proposal under which AT&T rates would be deregulated Long-distance service would be virtually deregulated in 1984.
But it is unclear how other committee members view the proposed legislative language. Sources said that AT&T Officials are unhappy with the controls, in part because of the transition period before deregulation.
AT&T officials say that despite a recent FCC decision that moves toward deregulation, legislation outlining the regulatory framework is necessary to allow the company to enter new competitive ventures.