AT&T, TCI put local telephones on hold

Rep urges commission to allow high-speed Internet access bundling

WASHINGTON — It’s not at all clear what AT&T’s schedule is for rolling out local telephone service, even though the telco claims that offering a local dialtone is the central element of its $48 billion deal to acquire Tele-Communications Inc., the FCC discovered Monday.

At a hearing on telecommunications industry mergers Monday, an AT&T executive said high-speed Internet access is scheduled to roll out to 90% of TCI’s network by 2000, but also revealed that there is no comparable plan for rolling out telephony service. TCI and AT&T have repeatedly promised that the merger would bring about the long-sought competition for local telephone companies.

When asked directly, AT&T rep James Cicconi said he would “have to get back to the commission” on a schedule for the rollout of local telephone service.

AT&T asks to bundle up

Cicconi spent much of the two-hour hearing urging the FCC not to impose a requirement that the AT&T unbundle its high-speed Internet service, which it plans to wrap with the @Home service developed by TCI.

AT&T and TCI execs have said publicly they would walk away from the $48 billion deal if they were forced to open their high-speed Internet platform to others, such America Online. In reply to a question from FCC chairman William Kennard, Cicconi quoted AT&T’s FCC filing, which said that if conditions are imposed on the deal, it would “seriously jeopardize” the merger.

Cicconi also said it was premature for the FCC to act on predictions by public interest groups who testified that @Home’s preferred status on the AT&T network would stifle competition from other Internet service providers such as America Online and Mindspring. “To act on these projections … before any problems have arisen would be unjustified,” said Cicconi.

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