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Judge Eases Restrictions on Bell Firms

September 10, 1987|Associated Press

WASHINGTON — A federal judge today opened the door for the Bell operating companies to transmit computerized information services but refused to lift restrictions that prevent the companies from making telephone equipment and providing long-distance service.

U.S. District Judge Harold H. Greene said the companies can transmit computerized services, such as message storing and alarm monitoring, but he precluded them from providing the information itself.

Greene also said the companies will no longer have to obtain a waiver from the court to enter non-telecommunications businesses.

In a 223-page decision, Greene said the seven Bell companies, spun off from American Telephone & Telegraph Co. by an antitrust decree three years ago, continue to have monopoly control of their local phone networks. Customers have few alternatives to bypass the Bells' switches and circuits, he said.

'No Significant Changes'

"No significant changes have occurred . . . that would justify a radical change in the decree," Greene concluded.

The Bell companies had sought to vastly expand their businesses by having all three restrictions of the decree removed. They argued that technological and competitive developments in the industry made it unlikely they could use their control of the local network to an unfair advantage over competitors.

The judge, however, dismissed their arguments.

"Had it not been for the drumbeat of a wide-ranging public relations campaign, no one would have seriously entertained the proposition that a solution arrived at after a 30-year struggle . . . should be jettisoned in substantial part after a mere three years," he said.

Justice Dept. Backed Bells

The Justice Department had recommended to Greene that the seven Bell companies be allowed to manufacture telephone equipment and provide information services.

The department also had asked Greene to let the Bell companies provide long-distance services outside the areas where they control local phone service. But the department later pulled back on that recommendation, saying the judge should allow that only on a case-by-case basis.

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