Communications: Ma Bell & Her Friends

When it comes to confrontations with Big Business, Washington is scarcely shy. Yet last week, marshaling a full-time staff of 20 to do battle against the U.S.'s biggest utility, the Federal Communications Commission sounded downright diffident—and with good reason.

The FCC's target, the American Telephone & Telegraph Co., is not merely the world's largest corporation but traditionally the bluest of blue-chip investments. The Bell System has the most stockholders (2.8 million), the most shares of stock outstanding (530 million), and the highest total stock value ($31 billion) of any firm listed on any exchange. So many of those shares are...