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Clinton urged to take stand on telco bill

The Clinton administration was urged by Congress Wednesday to quickly state its position on sweeping legislation designed to open up competition among local telephone companies, long-distance phone firms and cable TV providers.

Senate communications subcommittee chairman Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii) urged the White House to become a serious player in the telecommunications battle at the conclusion of a grueling five-hour hearing.

In a direct plea to the White House, Inouye said, “The administration should have noted there is a lot of interest in this bill. This subcommittee does not just plan to have hearings. We will report out this measure. … Your participation is important.”

Inouye said afterwards the Clinton administration had been asked to testify, but declined because it has been “occupied with other issues.” However, the Hawaii Democrat made it clear he expects White House participation at future hearings.

The bill, offered by Inouye and Sen. John Danforth (R-Mo.), is designed to encourage private investment in the much-ballyhooed “information superhighway.” The legislation would permit telcos to enter the cable TV arena, and vice versa.

Most of the day’s testimony was centered on two provisions: one that would permit regional Bell operating companies that currently provide only local phone service to enter the long-distance market; and another that would allow long-distance providers AT&T and MCI to go head-to-head with the RBOCs in the local phone service market. AT&T chairman Robert Allen said his firm has “no interest in owning cable companies.”

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