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FCC Asked to Approve Information Services on Baby Bells

November 25, 1987|From Times Wire Services

WASHINGTON — A Commerce Department agency Tuesday asked the Federal Communications Commission to do what a federal judge has refused to do: let the regional Bell telephone companies offer computerized information services.

In a petition filed with the FCC, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration said that the local phone networks operated by the Bell companies are "a major national resource" that should be put to better use.

The filing challenges U.S. District Judge Harold H. Greene's jurisdiction over the telecommunications industry and the limits that he has placed on the activities of the so-called Baby Bells spun off American Telephone & Telegraph by an antitrust decree nearly four years ago.

"By precluding Bell company participation in the information services sector, or hobbling that involvement with judicial regulations, the court has placed important communications policy goals at risk," the petition said.

Broadcast License

"Without these 'electronic tools,' American enterprise will be less able to provide the goods and services, investment and employment opportunities needed for the growth of our economy," NTIA said.

The agency also noted that some foreign countries, notably France, already offer a wealth of information services that allow telephone callers to bank at home, make airline reservations, check theater listings and chat electronically.

FCC spokeswoman Sally Lawrence said the commission is "sympathetic with NTIA's position," but "we are not sure yet that the approach in the petition is the appropriate approach."

In unrelated matter, the Federal Communications Commission said it has begun proceedings that could result in the revocation of the broadcast license for Oklahoma City's KGMC-TV, controlled by the wife of the disgraced former stock speculator Ivan F. Boesky.

FCC officials said the commissioners in a closed meeting ordered Serphim Corp. to show cause why its television license should not be revoked for engaging in an unauthorized transfer of control of the station.

Seema Boesky is a principal of Serphim Corp. and the wife of Ivan Boesky, who settled civil insider trading charges last year by paying $100 million. He has also pleaded guilty to one criminal count and is scheduled to be sentenced Dec. 18 in New York federal court.

Sultan to Buy Hotel

The FCC said the case stemmed from an application filed on Dec. 16, 1986, in which approval was sought for a corporate reorganization involving Serphim and the liquidation of Beverly Hills Hotel Corp., which had a controlling interest in the television station.

In December, 1986, a partnership led by oilman Marvin Davis said it would purchase the hotel from Boesky, his wife and family. Boesky and his wife controlled about 52% of the hotel's parent company. Boesky's sister and husband owned the remainder.

Last month, the Sultan of Brunei, one of the world's wealthiest men, agreed to buy the hotel from Davis.

In the television license investigation, the FCC found that the parties had concluded the proposed transaction on Dec. 31 without FCC approval in apparent violation of federal communications law.

An FCC official said the proceedings to decide whether to revoke the license would take about a year.

In another matter, the commission proposed to levy fees on certain private telephone networks used by large businesses, whose traffic "leaks" into the public phone network.

Before deciding to impose such fees, however, the FCC said it will have to determine whether phone companies can accurately measure the traffic that flows from private networks into the public system.

The fees would be similar to access charges the commission has proposed to apply to computer users, who have produced a storm of protest because it would sharply increase their phone rates, more than doubling the price in some cases.

Gerald Brock, the FCC's top telephone staff member, said he did not know how much the proposed fees would mean for companies that use these networks, but he guessed "it will not be a terribly large amount."

The International Communications Assn., which represents 600 large businesses with telecommunications bills of more than $1 million each, said an informal survey of its members indicated that some would see increases of 50% to 100% in phone costs, while others would see no increase.

The chief problem the FCC faces is measuring the flow of "off-network" traffic, which commissioners said has prevented them in the past from extending access charges to private networks.

"The problem is largely evolving technology," said FCC Chairman Dennis R. Patrick. "Today we may be better able to measure."

The commission will be targeting private networks that are configured to allow calls to be made on the public network.

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