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Global Pact Has a Local Impact

CYBERCULTURE | HEARD ON THE BEAT

February 17, 1997|JAMES BATES | TIMES STAFF WRITER

If half of the world's population has never even made a telephone call, as telecommunications experts note repeatedly to illustrate the industry's potential, it doesn't take a genius to figure out that the fraction of people who have ever, say, hooked in via phone line to check a sports score on ESPN's Web site is tiny indeed.

That kind of potential is why Saturday's accord by about 70 countries to open up the $600-billion global telecommunications market could have a far bigger impact for California than is apparent from the initial reports from Geneva and Washington.

Yes, the agreement will let long-distance carriers such as AT&T, Sprint and MCI provide cheaper, better phone service to people who now depend on inefficient government-controlled monopolies.

Further down the line, the lower international long-distance bills and reduced static on calls could well be followed by a proliferation in the kind of services that the telecommunications industry has the potential to bring to a much greater extent throughout the globe in a deregulated environment, such as easy Internet access, movies on demand or data and voice services.

The ripples as those services flourish would be felt across two of the state's leading industries--the technology sector and those in the business of generating "content"--from companies such as Burbank-based Walt Disney Co., which is moving into providing entertainment services via the Internet, to Yahoo, the Santa Clara provider of an Internet browsing service.

If Saturday's deal lives up to even half of the $1-trillion hype from boosters, the state of California stands to be one of the big winners.

Even the cheaper telephone rates will benefit Southern California, experts say, because international trade is such a major business here.

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