"Dear Judge--or Mr. Justice Greene: I really don't know how to address you properly," the letter began. "I hate what you, [assistant attorney general William F.] Baxter, the Justice and antitrust departments have done to AT&T.
"It is simply unbelievable! You have destroyed 100 years of hard work on the part of AT&T, the best telephone system in the world. It isn't fair to our country, to stockholders, pension funds, and to the people like my husband. My husband is extremely deaf and has to hear by grace of the most powerful [hearing-device]--made . . . with AT&T," continued Mrs. Charles Pelham Greenough of Lindsborg, Kans.
Greenough was one of several hundred persons submitting their views during the period for public comment on the landmark settlement that ended the government's seven-year-antitrust suit against American Telephone & Telegraph Co. (Comments are supposed to be sent to the Justice Department, but some, like Greenough, have written to Judge Greene, who is handling the case.)
Within days of the Jan. 8 announcement of the settlement, which requires AT&T to divest itself of its 22 local operating companies, AT&T customers, employes and stockholders began sending in their complaints--a response considered very unusual for a court case.
With the comment period approaching a Tuesday deadline, the Federal Communications Commission and most state regulatory agencies and AT&T competitors are still to be heard from. Justice Department lawyers expect a flood of filings from those quarters at the last minute.
Meanwhile, the public is expressing its feelings, not always in the decorous language of the lawyers.
"As a member of the public, my comment is why the hell did you ever start this stupid trial in the first place?" asked Ross Smith of Houston, Tex. "You're taking the world's finest telephone system and splitting it up in the name of 'competition.' What a crock! . . . You should apologize to the company and the public for a grotesque miscarriage of 'justice,' leave AT&T alone, permit them to engage in any business they wish and then you go back to chasing ambulances. Or even better, get an honest job."
AT&T stockholder Catherine S. Hensley of Kansas City, Mo., complained, "I no longer feel safe with my excellent blue chip investment which was supposed to have been a rock of Gibraltar in my retirement years."
W. T. Brannon, of St. Petersburg, Fla., demanded, "Why should AT&T be penalized for running a successful corporation resulting from good management."
Not all the writers defended AT&T; a few contended the settlement was far too favorable to the Bell System because it allows AT&T to retain its most profitable operations: its long-distance network and its manufacturing subsidiary, Western Electric.
"As I see it, the Justice Department has perpetrated a rip-off of the general public rather than providing them with a benefit," asserted Harold W. Sherman of Ypsilanti, Mich. "AT&T will only get bigger and richer while the public will pay and pay and pay if this settlement is approved."
Another man who identified himself as an ex-Bell manager called the settlement "one of the greatest misrepresentations of justice ever perpetrated on the American public" because the alleged antitrust violations were "so clear cut and yet the accused benefits so much from the settlement."
Still other letters complained of long-running battles with the phone company over such matters as billing errors and disability payments.
All the letters will become part of the legal file that Judge Greene will rely upon when he decides whether the settlement is in the public's interest. Before the settlement can become final, Greene must approve it; but he as indicated he will take no action until the comment period ends.
After that, however, Greene may seek further testimony. In an order issued 10 days ago, Greene hinted at such a possibility because "a number of issues probably requiring additional exploration have surfaced already in the documents which have reached the court." Greene did not specify those issues.
Justice Department lawyers expect the comments from the state regulatory agencies to pose some serious questions about the settlement that, under the judge's order, would have to be answered by May 5.
The few state utility commissions that have submitted comments suggest the kinds of questions on the minds of regulators.
The Florida Public Service Commission, for example, said that although it approved the concept of divestiture, it was greatly concerned about some of the restrictions it imposed on the local operating companies, which no longer would derive revenues from Yellow Pages, the sale of telephone equipment or providing long-distance service.
The loss of Yellow Pages and telephone equipment revenues could "raise local rates in some states, threatening universal service at affordable rates," the commission said. It pointed out that AT&T's Southern Bell subsidiary earned $32 million on the $600,000 it cost the company to publish Yellow Pages. "If these amounts were lost to the local ratepayers, they would have to pay an additional $2.50 per month per customer, or an increase of over 20 percent."