Asserting that there is "a paralysis of policy makers," a former chairman of the Federal Communications Commission has suggested that the federal judge who presided over the breakup of the Bell System should step aside to let Congress and the FCC shape the nation's telecommunications policy.
"All good things must come to an end," said Richard Wiley, who chaired the FCC during the Nixon administration. "While U.S. District Judge Harold Greene performed a great service, there comes a time when there should be a shift away from the judiciary and to regulatory mechanisms."
He also said that Judge Greene's continuing active role in telephone affairs since the breakup has meant that "We don't have anybody who can make a decision on access charges, for example."
Access charges, which have been proposed by the FCC, are monthly fees levied on telephone customers for a connection to long-distance telephone networks.
Wiley's remarks, which were echoed by other leading telecommunications figures, came at an industry conference here Wednesday sponsored by EIC Intelligencer, an electronic publishing company.
In both formal and informal comments, several telecommunications executives expressed concern that Greene, who is overseeing implementation of divestiture, had become "an institution" in the industry and was contributing to the uncertainty that surrounds telecommunications in the post-divestiture era.
"There's an aftermath to this cataclysm that's got to be cleared up," said William Sharwell, a former AT&T executive who was involved in much of the divestiture effort. "The present situation is untenable. There have got to be changes in the antitrust consent decree . We are nowhere near the end of the public policy debate about communications. We're at the beginning of it."
"We have what we deserve -- a measure of chaos," said Harvard University professor Anthony Oettinger. "Regulation has become more byzantine than before. There isn't a paralysis -- there are a lot of policies. They just happen to be diverging."
Much of the confusion, conference participants agreed, resulted from the differing goals of the FCC, Congress and Judge Greene. Congress, for example, has blocked the FCC's efforts to establish long-distance access fees for residential customers. Similarly, Greene has criticized the commission's efforts. Wiley asserted that the FCC may be "more successful in 1985 in a non-election year" in its attempt to establish the fees.
However, the combined uncertainties are making it more difficult for telecommunications companies to map out strategies or for entrepreneurs to inject more competition into the field.
"The breakup of the Bell System creates tremendous entrepreneurial opportunities," said Clay Whitehead, president of the telecommunications company National Exchange and former White House telecommunications policy adviser. "But anybody who wants to enter the telecommunications services business now ought to have his head examined. We are going to have another year or two of feeling the absence of the Bell System."
Telecommunications consultant Robert E. LaBlanc pointed out that many large companies were coping with the uncertain environment by building their own networks. However, said Harvard's Oettinger, managers might eventually discover that the proliferation of private networks prevented that direct exchange of voice and data.
"What they'll find they want is universal service -- which is what we had," he said. "We may put this whole thing back together again. The question is, whether we will do it in five years or in 25 years."