AT&T-TCI Hearings: Just a Formality

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WASHINGTON: When AT&T and cable giant Telecommunications Inc.(TCI) announced merger plans last month, FCC chairman William Kennard jumped right in and gave his blessing. The merger promised new technologies and new conveniences for customers. So why has Congress been holding hearings on the merger when its members should be out campaigning or something? Two words: Ralph Nader.

TIME Daily Washington correspondent Declan McCullagh says that the ageless consumer watchdog demanded that Kennard hold hearings on the grounds that "the addition of AT&T's muscle would strengthen TCI's government-permitted monopoly on cable rather than give consumers more choice." Notes McCullagh: "The argument is that the combination would create an 800-lb. gorilla that the Bells couldn't compete against." But Nader, says McCullagh, is missing the point. The Baby Bells currently aren't competing against anyone, not even each other. Allowing AT&T/TCI to compete in the local phone game would encourage the Bells to enter the long-distance phone market -- and that means more competition all around. Nader or no Nader, says McCullagh, "it looks like the merger will go through. Both Democrats and Republicans have been saying the benefits far outweigh any drawbacks."