Bell Atlantic Harks Back to Good Old Days

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NEW YORK: How many phone companies are in your future? Fewer than there are now -- but if you're lucky, each of them will do a lot more for you than the former AT&T monopoly. Tuesday's announcement that local phone giant Bell Atlantic will swallow GTE certainly positions it to be one of the last Bells standing -- but expect the FCC to make sure it gives a little, first.

"Bell Atlantic, AT&T -- all these companies want their brand to be one-stop shopping: local phone service, long-distance service and Internet access," says TIME business correspondent John Greenwald. "The FCC just needs to ensure that there are more than one of these brands in each market." Under the Telecommunications Act, the Baby Bells have to give up their monopoly on the local markets -- and that hasn't happened yet, which is a major hurdle for this merger. But if it's approved, Bell Atlantic, armed with GTE's long-distance service, will have taken a step toward crossover hegemony not seen since pre-breakup AT&T -- and the resultant behemoth would be the nation's second largest phone company, behind its former parent. The FCC just wants to make sure that local giants such as Bell Atlantic provide access to competitors. Otherwise, some of the Baby Bells would turn into Ma -- and Pa -- Bells.