FCC May OK SBC Long-Distance Bid

Friday, June 30th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) — SBC Communications is on the brink of receiving federal approval to offer long-distance calling in Texas, which would mark only the second time a regional Bell telephone company has secured permission to provide that service to its local customers.

The Federal Communications Commission is expected to clear SBC's application, allowing the company to offer customers one-stop shopping for their phone and Internet services.

The commission has until Wednesday to issue its decision, but experts have widely predicted that SBC would receive regulatory approval.

On Thursday, Rep. Gene Green, D-Texas, issued a press release saying that the commission had approved the application. Green said his office had been notified early in the day that an announcement was imminent.

Green said other lawmakers, including Rep. John Dingell of Michigan, the top Democrat on the House Commerce Committee, received similar word from the FCC. Dingell's staff confirmed that they were contacted by the commission.

Green said he spoke with FCC Chairman William Kennard in the afternoon. Based on that conversation, Green said he understood that a majority of the commissioners had voted to approve the application

``I think SBC will be given the right to enter long-distance,'' Green said. ``That's good for Texas and the people I represent.''

He said he thought a final announcement may not come until next week.

On Friday, FCC officials continued to assert that no final action had been taken. Commission decisions do not become final until all five members have voted.

``We are very close, but a decision hasn't been made yet,'' Kennard told reporters.

He also said he believes the commission has a duty to inform members of Congress generally of upcoming actions from the commission.

``We have an obligation to give them a heads-up,'' Kennard said. But he did not confirm that any lawmakers were told specifically about the status of votes approving the deal.

Matt Miller, a spokesman for the San Antonio-based company, said it had not been notified of any decision.

Bell Atlantic became the first company to secure FCC permission to offer its local customers long-distance calling last year, earning that right in New York state.

SBC, which operates in 13 states, is the nation's largest local phone company. However, it will drop to No. 2 when the Bell Atlantic-GTE merger is completed.

SBC's long-distance application has been bolstered by support from the Justice Department and Texas state regulators. Although the FCC has the final word, it must give weight to both evaluations.

The outlook for the application seemed particularly favorable since the Justice Department gave its approval. It marked the first time the department has backed a Bell company's attempt to offer long-distance service within its local calling region.

The Justice Department originally recommended that SBC's application, filed at the beginning of this year, be denied. Bell companies must satisfy a 14-point checklist meant to ensure their market is open to rivals before they get approval to offer long-distance.

The Justice Department supported the application after it said the company provided data showing it improved handling rivals' requests to use its lines for high-speed Internet service. SBC also improved the processing of orders to switch local phone customers to competitors, the department said.

A 1996 telecommunications law sought to increase competition in local markets by allowing Bell companies to offer long-distance service if they opened local service to competitors. The approval would be another step toward that goal.