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Telco seeks waiver for merger with TCI

Bell Atlantic, eager to merge with two cable television companies, wants the Justice Dept. to back its request for a waiver of federal court restrictions on long-distance telephone service.

10-year-old decrees

The restrictions were imposed by a consent decree entered in U.S. District Court when AT&T was broken up 10 years ago.

Bell Atlantic said they would complicate its planned merger with Tele-Communications Inc. and Liberty Media Corp.

“We know perfectly well that this (merger) would violate the consent decree,” Bell Atlantic spokesman Eric Rabe said Friday. “We’re not going to go ahead and hope that we don’t get caught. That’s not how we’re going to operate this company.”

The decree created Bell Atlantic and six other regional telephone companies to provide local telephone service within defined geographic areas. Bell Atlantic, based in Philadelphia, serves Mid-Atlantic states and the District of Columbia.

Only long-distance companies like AT&T, MCI and Sprint are allowed to carry calls that cross those boundaries.

Rabe predicted that the court would approve the waivers if the Justice Dept. recommends it.

The Justice Dept. was non-committal.

The court has never granted a waiver allowing one of the regional telcos to deliver programming by satellite, Rabe said.

BellSouth Corp., another regional phone company, adopted a different strategy Friday to attack the long-distance restrictions.

In papers filed with the Federal Communications Commission, BellSouth said the transfer of cellular phone licenses from McCaw Cellular Communications to AT&T as part of the merger of those two companies should be blocked until AT&T agrees that the long-distance restrictions on regional telcos can be dropped.

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