A spokesman for the newspaper industry charged yesterday that the prospect of American Telephone & Telegraph Co. entering the home information market by offering an electronic Yellow Pages service would have a "chilling effect" on others interested in using similar computer technology.
"That is a highly risky thing to happen to the American people," said Robert Marbut, president of Harte-Hanks Communications Inc. and chairman of an American Newspaper Publishers Association's telecommunications committee.
Marbut's testimony before the Senate Commerce Committee was made during hearings on telecommunications legislation sponsored by the panel's leadership. The newspaper trade group opposes key sections of the bill and argues that AT&T should be barred from being the originator of information such as advertising.
The legislation would permit AT&T to offer an updated version of the Yellow Pages on home terminals, which could be operated in direct competition with newspaper classified and display advertising.
Randall Tobias, AT&T vice president or marketing, sales and service, argued, however, that it would be unfair to bar the Bell System from adapting its Yellow Pages service to the electronic environment.
Reiterating a position taken before the committee Tuesday by At&t Chairman Charles Brown, Tobias said AT&T would accept limitations on the origination of certain information services. "However, we do seek to remain in those businesses we are presently engaged in such as time, weather and other similar services, directory services and the Yellow Pages business," Tobias said. "We believe we should be able to apply new technologies to our business as others are doing to their businesses."
Marbut said AT&T should be free to offer virtually any kind of home information in locales where other telephone companies serve local subscribers. iThe ANPA thus argues that AT&T should not be both the original source of information and advertising and at the same time offer the transmission facilities for that data.
"At a minimum, the result of telephone company provision of mass-media services would be an inhibition to entry by diverse information sources; at worst it would result in a monopolization of the market," Marbut said in prepared testimony.
The issue is particularly important in the debate over the legislation, which permits AT&T to offer new services in a largely deregulated environment through a separate subsidiary, wiping out a 1956 government consent decree barring the Bell System from offering services free from regulation.
Committee members view the newspaper publishers as a major political obstacle to the legislation in light of their clout and representation in every state and congressional district.
Sen. Robert Packwood (R-Ore.), the committee chairman, and other members of the panel attempted yesterday to press the two sides toward a compromise. Although the publishers and AT&T appear to agree on limitations on AT&T's authority to originate news and other information services, the two concerns appear far apart on the advertising issue.