The potpourri of interest groups arrayed against American Telephone & Telegraph Co. in the battle to shape a new national telecommunications policy say their legislative goals and lobbying strategies have been largely unaffected by the proposed breakup of Ma Bell.
A week after the dramatic announcement of an antitrust settlement between AT&T and the Justice Department, some of the confusion over its impact has begun to lift from Bell's competitors and users.
In the main, they share the view of Herbert Marks, counsel to the Independent Data Communication Manufacturers Association, who said that "this doesn't change anything; we still have the same goals as before."
That means Bell's competitors will continue to push for legislation to ensure that AT&T won't be able to use the revenues and "insider information" from what will remain of its regulated business--the long-distance phone operation --to gain a competitive edge as it moves for the first time into unregulated ventures such as computer manufacturing, cable TV and electronic publishing.
By the same token, telephone users will press for legislation designed to prevent a drop in quality or sharp increase in cost of basic local telephone service.
Even before the proposed divestiture, those were the broad concerns of the loose alliance of trade associations and ad hoc groups that have been lobbying on the other side of the fence from AT&T as legislation rewriting the Communications Act of 1934 worked its way through Congress in recent years.
The Senate bill passed last year addressed some of these concerns, but most factions in the anti-AT&T coalition are more enthusiastic about a bill drafted by Rep. Timothy Wirth (D-Colo.), chairman of the House telecommunications subcommittee, that is considered more procompetitive and pro-user.
In anticipation of a battle this year over Wirth's bill, some in the anti-Bell confederation for the first time have adopted a strategy designed to compete with AT&T's vaunted lobbying apparatus where it is considered most formidable--at the grass roots.
Conventional wisdom has it that Ma Bell's powers of persuasion in Washington lie less with superlobbyists such as Charls E. Walker and Robert Strauss --though their contributions, of course, don't hurt--and more with its omnipresence and corporate good citizenship in towns and hamlets across the coun-try.
So the anti-Bell coalition is trying to fashion what AT&T has naturally by virtue of its work force of one million strong and its local executives' good standing in Kiwanis Clubs and United Fund boards across the land.
A new umbrella group, the National Coalition of Telecommunications Users and Providers, was formed last month by Sol Linowitz, a former troubleshooter for the Carter administration who now represents U.S. Telephone Co. of Dallas, a small re-seller of long-distance services.
The group, an amalgam of large corporations, such as General Telephone & Electronics, International Telephone & Telegraph, Tandy Corp. and U.S. Telephone, along with a variety of consumer goups around the country, will use direct mail and other grass roots techniques to try to generate broad popular support for Wirth's bill.
Coalition organizers say they are delighted by the extensive media play that has accompanied the proposed antitrust settlement. "Our biggest problem is getting people to be aware of the issue," said Robert Beckel, a former White House lobbyist and close friend of Wirth who is helping put the coalition together. "We couldn't pay for the kind of publicity that we've gotten over the past week."
In Beckel's view, the publicity--especially reports that the settlement could send telephone rates skyrocketing--will serve to make the bill "too politically attractive" not to pass in some form in an election year.
Other anti-Bell lobbyists are not quite so persuaded that the events of the past week have strengthened their hand in Congress, however. They fear that AT&T, having got what it needed from the proposed antitrust settlement--the right to compete in the burgeoning telecommunications field--now no longer has any pressing need for legislation. It therefore can concentrate its muscle on trying to kill any provisions it considers too restrictive.
"Clearly it's going to be more difficult to pass a bill now than it was a week ago because AT&T's need for legislation has disappeared," said Richard Neustadt, a former communications adviser to President Carter who now does legal work for the American Newspaper Publishers Association.
The ANPA, on the other hand, represents the kind of industry that continues to feel the need for legislative protection. During the fight in the Senate, the ANPA argued that a company that has monopoly control over the conduits of information should not also be in the business of providing information.
Publishers got what they wanted in the Senate bill: a provision sharply limiting AT&T's ability to offer so-called electronic Yellow Pages and other original sources of information on home terminals. Such services would compete with newspaper classified and retail ads.
With the local telephone lines now broken away from the parent company, a large chunk of the Bell monopoly over the conduits would disappear, of course. But the remaining AT&T still will retain a monopoly over long-distance lines.