"Theyíre early," he says. "AT&T does have the cable networks to offer local phone service over those lines, but itís a few years away from actually happening. And the lines the Bells have opened up to competition still carry such fees that a long-distance company that uses them canít offer competitive rates, leaving Bell Atlanticís home base of New York, for all practical purposes, a one-company market." Reality, however, doesnít have lobbyists; Bell Atlanticís have for years been bending over backward to convince New York regulators (on whose go-ahead the FCCís approval depends) that theyíre ready, willing and legally able to wade into the long-distance fray. On their side is increasing political pressure from Congress for the 1996 act to start getting results; against them are the AT&Ts and the MCIs and the Sprints, who are having enough trouble with each other without having to worry about a new kid with local clout. Better plan for the worst, fellas; where Bell Atlantic goes and the chances look pretty good there are four more Baby Bells just aching to follow.
Baby wants to grow up. Bell Atlantic, the northeastern offspring of the 1984 breakup of AT&T, has formally applied to the FCC for permission to take on its old Ma and offer long-distance service to its New York customers. The rationale dates back to the 1996 Telecommunications Act, which promised the Baby Bells their shot at one-stop telecom shopping local, Internet and long-distance service all on one bill from one company once long-distance carriers like AT&T had had their shot at breaking the Baby Bells' hold on local markets. Bell Atlantic claims that day has arrived (pointing out, for instance, that both MCI and AT&T have considerable numbers of local customers in New York); TIME business writer Karl Taro Greenfeld isnít so sure.