A panel of industry leaders yesterday charged that the Federal Communications Commission and the consent decree governing the breakup of the Bell System are hurting the telecommunications industry's transition from regulation to free-market competition.
However, representatives from competing segments of the industry all argued that the FCC's policies and the consent decree were biased against them.
Speaking at the Communication Networks '85 conference at the D.C. Convention Center, MCI Communications Corp. Chairman William G. McGowan said that provisions for providing American Telephone & Telegraph's long-distance competitors with equal access to local phone lines "is not working as we had hoped.
"In fact, we greatly underestimated the costs and complexities faced by AT&T's competitors, and we find ourselves in a process heavily biased in AT&T's favor," he said.
McGowan complained that the local telephone companies, which were spun off from AT&T last January as a result of the 1982 Justice Department consent decree, were too slow in modifying their networks to provide equal access to MCI and other AT&T competitors. Such modifications are required to be finished by the end of 1986.
He also argued that, instead of requiring consumers to choose long-distance services, the local phone companies were providing AT&T long-distance service to customers "by default." He asked for Bell's competitors to be apportioned some of the "default" customers.
He further argued that the local phone companies didn't provide customer lists to AT&T competitors -- although such information is available to AT&T and gives it a competitive advantage in marketing.
For these and other reasons, McGowan charged that "the process is so biased in AT&T's favor that, for most customers, equal access equals AT&T."
However, Bell Atlantic Corp. Chairman Tom Bolger argued: "Unless there is a change in current telecommunications policy , the Bell operating companies may be the unintended victims of AT&T deregulation."
Bolger said that, even as Bell Atlantic plans to spend $220 million over the next two years to accommodate the equal-access provisions of the consent decree and the FCC, major telecommunications users such as large businesses are looking for ways to bypass the local telephone networks to save money.
The way regulators are imposing costs on Bell Atlantic to handle equal access will force the company to charge "uneconomic prices" and thus give further incentive for major telecommunications users to leave the network, he said.
Randall Tobias, the newly named chairman of AT&T Communications, also complained about FCC restrictions. He called for the commission to lift restriction's on AT&T's ability to provide both networking services and equipment through a single subsidiary rather than through two seperate subsidiaries -- AT&T Communication and AT&T Technology -- as the agency now requires.