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Peace Talks

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Peace Talks

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Newspaper Association of America and the regional Bell operating companies attempting to come up with |safeguard' legislation that will be palatable to both sides

The lion lamb aren't lying down together, but representatives of newspapers and regional telephone companies have been discussing an armistice that could be announced "within weeks at the most," the newspaper representative said.

The sides have made "considerable progress" over six months in talks that center on "safeguards that could form the basis for comprehensive legislation in the House," said Newspaper Association of America vice president and chief lobbyist John Sturm, who represents newspapers in the negotiations.

Sturm declined to say who represented the regional Bell operating companies or to discuss the substance of the talks. But he said that results, if any, would be forthcoming shortly in the form of language for a compromise telecommunications bill.

Sturm's disclosure, at the Newspaper Association of America's Nexpo exhibition and conference in New Orleans, came as newspapers around the country, notably including Cox Enterprises' Atlanta Journal-Constitution, are cutting their own deals with phone companies.

Since U.S. District Judge Harold Greene lifted a restriction in 1991, the RBOCs have been free to generate information, rather than just carry it for others. That means they may market such products as electronic yellow pages and classified ads. But the development of such services has been slowed by the lack of a national telecommunications policy, and the threat of legislation effectively banning the Bells from information services.

NAA, in an effort to guard newspapers' lucrative classified advertising, and other categories, has been fighting in Congress to ban RBOCs-as information providers as long as they control the lines of communication.

A bill sponsored by Rep. Jack Brooks (D.-texas) died last year after proceeding out of committee. It would have barred RBOCs from information services as long as the phone companies held monopoly control over local phone service - what has come to be known as an "entry test."

The discussion of "safeguards" represents a tacit acceptance that newspapers may not be able to garner enough support for a law blocking phone companies entirely from becoming information suppliers. …

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