Raising antitrust concerns, Sen. Strom Thurmond (R-S.C.), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, has asked the Commerce Committee for an opportunity to review telecommunications legislation proposed by a coalition of Senate Republicans.
In a letter last week to Sen. Bob Packwood (R-Ore.), chairman of the commerce panel, Thurmond cited parts of the legislation that would modify a 1956 consent decree between the Justice Department and American Telephone & Telegraph Co. and could affect the government's antitrust suit against AT&T.
Thurmond asked for "sequential referral" of the bill, which raises the possibility, although slim, that Thurmond might block the legislation. The referral would occur only if the Commerce Committee passed the bill.
The significant legislation would deregulate the industry substantially, restructure AT&T to permit the company to operate in unregulated markets, such as data-processing, and eliminate the Federal Communications Commission's role as overseer of the Bell System structure.
Thurmond, who until now has said little publicly about his interest in AT&T antitrust matters, said he was making the request, despite the fact that a section of the legislation specifically says it does not intend to address antitrust law. Antitrust oversight is handled by the Judiciary Committee.