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1995 | 08 | 02 | Articles | The News & Observer | Business
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The News & Observer (Raleigh, NC)
August 2, 1995
Page D1
Long-distance firms fight change
Employee rallies and copies of the Monopoly board game are part of the lobbying effort.
By Stewart Ugelow

In high school civics classes, they don’t mention the shrink-wrapped Monopoly board games in how a bill becomes a law.

A coalition of long-distance telephone carriers has sent the popular board game to every member of Congress and to newspaper editors across the country in a last-minute lobbying effort.

Much more than Monopoly money is at stake. The long-distance carriers are trying to keep federal telecommunications reform legislation from passing "Go."

The reform bill had cleared the U.S. House Commerce Committee May 25 by a 38-5 vote, with the long-distance companies’ whole-hearted support. Then on July 13, they learned that House leaders slipped in a provision that would simplify the entrance of the seven regional Bell operating companies, commonly known as the Baby Bells, into the long-distance market.

Although President Clinton said Tuesday he would veto the legislation in its current form, a vote could come as early as today.

So the nation’s roughly 500 long-distance carriers scrambled to strike back.

The three largest carriers, AT&T, MCI, and Sprint, each organized employee rallies around the country last week.

Last week, AT&T, which had been running advertisements in favor of the legislation, sent 3,000 employees to Washington on chartered buses and trains for a rally against the bill. It was the first political rally in the company’s 119-year history.

MCI organized a second round of rallies in Raleigh and eight other cities Tuesday. About 45 of MCI’s 1,000 Triangle employees braved the blistering midday heat to gather outside the office of Republican Rep. Fred Heineman in North Raleigh.

Heineman, who was targeted because he has not announced support for either side, probably will make up his mind today, spokeswoman Kay M. Ryon said.

"These bills are evolving, even as we speak," she said.

The legislation will provide substantive change to the regulatory framework that is still based on the 1934 Communications Act. The bill would deregulate much of the cable and phone industries.

For the Baby Bells, the bill represents a chance to enter the long-distance market while lowering costs and prices for consumers, BellSouth spokesman John Schneidawind said.

The bill also would allow long-distance carriers to enter the local phone market. The Baby Bells contend that the bill is fair because the long-distance companies can pick and choose the customers they serve while the Baby Bells are required to serve entire regions.

But it takes much longer to be able to compete locally than in long distance, said MCI senior policy adviser Liz Hogan.

Hence, the legislation’s label as the "Monopoly bill." And the mailing of the Monopoly board game.

The Baby Bells think it’s funny, but have no plans to respond in kind.