The newspaper and cable industries urged Congress yesterday to enact legislation to keep American Telephone & Telegraph Co. from offering any electronic publishing services over its long-distance network.
This restriction is needed more than ever as a result of the government's recent antitrust settlement with AT&T, the industry officials testified in a hearing before the House subcommittee on telecommunications, which is considering legislation to accompany the settlement.
"The terms of the settlement demand strong congressional action," testified Gustave M. Hauser, chairman of Warner Amex Cable Communications Inc., the fifth-largest cable operator in the country.
Although the settlement requires AT&T to divest itself of its 22 local operating companies, the communications giant no longer will be subject to 25-year-old government restraints that kept AT&T from offering any unregulated service, including electronic publishing.
With the restraints lifted, "AT&T will not necessarily become a competitor in electronic information services; it is likely to become a predator, primarily because it will still control the long-distance network and thus be able to inhibit or prevent the use of that network by electronic publishers," Hauser said.
The American Newspaper Publishers Association testified that, at a minimum, AT&T should not be allowed to enter the field "until a definitive showing is made" that there are adequate alternatives to the Bell System's long-distance network that could be used by publishers to transmit their information electronically throughout the country.
These arguments won the support of subcommittee Chairman Timothy Wirth (D-Colo.), who at the start of the hearing called for restraints on AT&T. "The settlement fails to adequately safeguard against the threat to information diversity from AT&T being permitted to engage in information publishing over its remaining monopoly transmission facilities, namely, its long-distance lines," Wirth said.
AT&T officials sharply disagreed, however. "It's clearly in our interest to encourage as many information providers as possible to use our intercity network because that's the business we're in," testified AT&T Vice President Randall L. Tobias.
Additionally, Tobias said, any restraints on AT&T will impede the development of the very promising electronic publishing service.