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A bill before Congress would provide regional telephone companies created by the breakup of AT&T an opportunity to become involved in electronic information services and telecommunications equipment research, development and manufacturing.

The court order divesting AT&T effectively barred regional companies from involvement in anything other than local calling service, intrastate long distance service, publishing printed directories and providing basic telephone directory service such as information, time and weather, and emergency reporting such as 911.HR 2140, which lists Rep. Howard Nielson, R-Utah, as one of its sponsors, would lift many restrictions imposed during the original order. The court order is reviewed at five-year intervals, one of which is presently under way.

W. Mack Lawrence, US WEST Communications vice president and chief executive officer in Utah, said unless restrictions are removed, local telephone companies can't fully participate in providing "information age" service. He said such restrictions shut many Americans out of the information market.

"The restrictions are stifling technology for our nation," Lawrence continued. "The market is glutted with telephone equipment, mostly from foreign manufacturers."

While the law would lift competition restrictions, it also provides buffers preventing telephone companies both from using the ventures to subsidize basic telephone service or from passing on the cost of failed ventures to ratepayers.

It also directs the Federal Communications Commission to ensure the ventures do not create a monopoly.