Two months ago, the Interstate Commerce Commission, inspired by the new businesslike attitude in Washington, proposed to make non-news recipients of its mound of daily press releases pay for what had been a free service. The ICC wanted to limit free distribution to the handful of regular news-gathering institutions and make everyone else pay--first for a daily news summary and, after reading that, for any individual releases they wanted.

Most of the 103 comments received by the ICC objected, according to the Feb. 23 Federal Register (page 7887). The respondents argued, in the main, that the summary wouldn't meet their needs and that they wanted some other means of "quick access" to commission decisions at "a reasonable fee."

This being a democracy, that point of view apparently will win out. The ICC plans to go ahead with the daily summary (it reported 66 potential subscribers), but it also will arrange for a private contractor to reproduce the daily releases and distribute them on a regular basis to those who want to pay for them. That is the solution, the notice says, that four other regulatory agencies have chosen.

While the agency looks for a private contractor, it will continue the present system of putting press releases in private boxes for regulars, such as law firms and interest groups.

"However," the ICC notice warns, "in the event that services of a private contractor cannot be procured, we will be forced to implement our initial proposal to curtail box service." Democracy apparently goes just so far.