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Expressing concern about the recent wave of huge telecommunications deals, lawmakers suggested Tuesday that regulators should consider requiring merging Bell companies to offer consumers the option of purchasing broadband without also obliging them to buy local and long-distance telephone service. “A good place to start would be to require that the Baby Bells offer consumers the choice of buying Internet access without also requiring them to buy phone service,” said Herb Kohl, D-Wis., ranking Democrat on the Judiciary Committee’s subcommittee on antitrust. At a hearing on telecom mergers, four chief executives told lawmakers that the mergers are necessary to compete effectively with cable and its burgeoning data and voice services. At issue are SBC Communications Inc.’s proposed $16 billion purchase of AT&T Corp., Verizon Communications Inc.’s $6.75 billion union with MCI Inc. and Sprint Corp.’s $35 billion merger with Nextel Communications Inc. Qwest Communications International Inc. has also bid to buy MCI. Qwest is the only one of the four so-called Baby Bell companies to offer stand-alone DSL. BellSouth, Verizon and SBC, Qwest’s rivals, have so far taken a different approach, trying to retain land-line customers by offering DSL bundled with phone service. Mike DeWine, R-Ohio, chairman of the antitrust subcommittee, also expressed concern about the power of merging Bell companies to stifle the ability of burgeoning broadband companies to offer local and long-distance service. “Voice over Internet protocol is a type of service that is only available to the consumer if he or she has broadband access, and currently that access is only available from the phone company or the cable company,” DeWine said. “In order for voice over IP to be a legitimate competitor to the merged companies, must we require the phone companies to sell DSL separately”? Kohl said he expects to offer other recommendations to the Federal Communications Commission and the Department of Justice. The same telecom executives testified before the House Commerce Committee about their proposed mergers. Most members of the committee generally reacted warmly to their comments. Kohl and DeWine plan to hold a follow-up hearing in the antitrust subcommittee on April 19, at which a panel of noncompany witnesses concerned about the deals will testify. “That hearing, which will be essentially part two of today’s hearing, will help us to more fully examine these mergers and explore the competitive impacts,” DeWine said. Copyright �2005 TDD, LLC. All rights reserved.

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