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Since the Bell System was divested nearly a decade ago, there has been much speculation about the right time to free US WEST and the other regional Bell companies from the restrictions placed on them at the breakup.

Last fall, the federal courts determined that the "right time" had come for Bell company participation in the information services marketplace.With the court decisions, community education programs, individually customized sports, travel and stock market information, and home banking are now possible for American consumers - whether they live in a Manhattan apartment or in a Utah suburb.

US WEST is excited about the opportunity to bring new information age service to Utah customers, in cooperation with information providers of all types and sizes - including newspapers and broadcasters.

As partners or as sole content providers, our goal is to provide customers with choices and alternatives not available to them today.

But there are those who aren't ready for that to happen. Fearful of losing lucrative classified ad revenues to electronic directory services, the American Newspaper Publishers Association has fought the changes in the courts and now is backing legislation in Congress to slam the door on American consumers.

Now, unfortunately, it seems the Deseret News has joined the foray to support federal legislation that will deny benefits of the information age to Utahns.

The legislation would significantly delay the delivery of new information services.

Bills currently under consideration in Congress would, for example, allow US WEST to provide electronic publishing services in Utah only if 50 percent of the customers in all the states served by us have access to an alternative local telephone service provider, and at least 10 percent in all states actually sign up for the service.

Under this scenario, Utah customers would be denied services if an alternate provider wasn't available to Idaho telephone users.

Would newspaper publishers agree to have their participation in other business ventures subject to these kinds of conditions? Of course not.

Opponents' claims that US WEST will drive competitors out of business and inappropriately use customer calling information are smoke screens. It is to our advantage to encourage as many information providers as possible to utilize our network.

More users mean more revenues for US WEST. Furthermore, we are required under state and federal law to provide anyone equal access to the telephone network.

To further protect consumers and maintain a level playing field for competitors, safeguards and enforcement mechanisms are in place at the state and federal level. We support these safeguards which, among other things, prevent local ratepayers from unfairly bearing the cost of new information services.

We encourage newspapers and others to put aside their fears of new technology and competition and to step forward to work with us - or compete with us - but in any event, to help bring these exciting new services to Utah consumers.

(Robert C. Fuehr is Utah vice president of US WEST Communications.)