Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.), chairman of the Judiciary Committee, and Sen. Howard Metzenbaum (D-Ohio), chairman of the antitrust subcommittee, are expected to ask the Commerce Committee to delay action on a sweeping communications act until their panels can study its antitrust implications, informed sources said yesterday.
The Commerce Committee will meet shortly to mark up the bill. Kennedy and Metzenbaum are expected to ask the committee's chairman, Sen. Howard Cannon (D-Nev.), to delay bringing the bill before the full Senate until the Judiciary Committee either reviews the legislation or holds hearings on it. If Cannon grants their request, it could delay White House and congressional efforts to send a communications bill to President Carter during the current congressional session.
The administration has asked for prompt action on the Senate bill.
In particular, the two senators want to study the antitrust consequences of efforts to lift a 1956 American Telephone & Telegraph Co. consent decree with the government. The action would be part of a legislative package removing regulations from many aspects of the telephone industry and thereby freeing AT&T to enter unregulated facets of the telecommunications business.
Kennedy and Metzenbaum also are worried about the implications of the legislation on the government's six-year-old antitrust suit against AT&T. Critic claim the bill could jepardize the Justice Department's suit.
Finally, the bill itself would impose dramatic structural changes on AT&T and therefore on the nation's entire communications industry, raising a third concern.
Sources say that Kennedy and Metzenbaum are not planning to force a fierce jurisdictional fight with Cannon like the Senate battle that accompanied introduction last year of trucking deregulation legislation. Nevertheless, the two senators are attempting to seek some sort of agreement that would insure that the antitrust issues raised by the legislation are studied either through public hearings or by the Judiciary Committee.
So far, there has been little Senate opposition to the communications legislation, which in recent weeks has become a major priority of the Carter administration.
Last summer Metzenbaum raised these concerns with sen. Ernest Hollings (D-S.C.), chairman of the Senate Communications subcommittee, a key supporter of the Senate legislative efforts.
Meanwhile, Communications Satellite Corp. yesterday joined other critics of the legislation in asking the Senate Commerce Committee to delay consideration of the telecommunications package.
Comsat said that because this legislation was introduced only a week and a half ago, the company has not had enough time to analyze fully its importance for the company.
Unlike the legislation before the House, the Senate bill places Comsat in a category like AT&T as a dominant regulated carrier and would require Comsat to set up a fully separate subsidiary to provide unregulated communications services.
Under the Senate bill, Comsat would not be able to have members of its own board officers of its new subsidiary, Comsat claims.
Comsat said the Senate bill was too restrictive, and would inhibit the ability of the parent company to effectively carry out its fiduciary responsibilities to its shareholders.
Also joining the call for a delay in the hearings is the American Newspaper Publishers Association, a trade association representing 1,370 newspapers throughout North America. Katharine Graham, chairman of The Washington Post Co. and the current chairman and president of the ANPA, said public hearings should be held "to explore all of the implications of this legislation."
Noting that "nowhere is technology changing our lives more rapidly than in the information industry," Graham said the newspaper industry's view of how "we can best provide information to people in the years ahead is rapidly evolving as well."
"We are particularly concerned about the sections that would enable AT&T -- the world's largest business -- to provide the kind of information that has traditionally been supplied by newspapers," she said.
A number of publishers, including Graham, have told senators they believe that new hearings are necessary to examine the implications of the legislation. t