Since the Telecommunications Act of 1996 was signed last February, you can’t pick up a publication without reading about a panel, white paper, TV roundtable or congressional hearing geared toward coping with or rethinking parts of the new bill. The ink was barely dry on President Clinton’s signature before Congress began its 20/20-hindsight review of the Act’s

real ramifications in a “what have we done?” mindset. It’s a little late now.

Just last week, Sens. Pat Leahy (D-Vt.), Herb Kohl (D-Wis.) and Russell Feingold (D-Wis.) sent a letter to Antitrust, Business Rights and Competition subcommittee chair Strom Thurmond (R-S.C.) regarding two pending regional holding company mergers-Nynex/Bell Atlantic and Pacific Telesis/Southwestern Bell. The three wrote, “The mergers between RHCs raise important issues about how competition in the telecommunications industry will be affected and whether consumers, particularly those in rural areas, will be the beneficiaries of an array of services at cheaper prices, not just in the short term, but also in the long term.”

What Congress doesn’t understand is that everyone in the industry knew that mergers would take place somewhere along the line. Many insiders said all along that Ma Bell would rise again-she’d just look a little different. To take it one step further, I’ve even worked with so-called MIS managers who still think AT&T is “the phone company.” Most subscribers probably couldn’t name their RHC; all they care about is service. (So much for the modified final judgment as far as the public is concerned.)

No watchdog or congressman blinked an eye when Bell Atlantic Nynex Mobile was launched, nor did they question large paging and specialized mobile radio mergers. The deals remained user-transparent, just as RHC mergers will, and customer service will not suffer because “competition” has been reduced by a factor of one.

Wireline and wireless billpayers will not be hurt by mergers; in fact, they may be helped by economies of scale. If I can get all of my telecom (and, someday, cable) services from one provider on one bill, sign me up.

And rural subscribers-who always have had a right to universal service-will continue to be eligible for reduced-rate services. In fact, the Federal Communications Commission found out recently that many wireless carriers are planning to become involved in under- or unserved areas, thus giving subscribers access to advantages heretofore unavailable from their local telcos. Thank the new Telecom Act for that.

A message to Congress and other after-the-fact footdraggers and naysayers: Quit agonizing over what you championed in the past and think about how to implement your decisions for the future.


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