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A load of lobbyists at phone hearings

How many lobbyists does it take to change telephone laws in Utah? Try 42.

There's hardly a seat left at committee hearings after all the high-powered lobbyists filed into the room. US WEST has 15 paid, registered lobbyists on Capitol Hill trying to bend legislators' ears.Competitive telephone companies and consumers groups are being represented by 27 lobbyists. The biggest army of dealmakers belongs to AT&T, which has seven lobbyists and four interns, registered with the state.

"I think these are important policy issues," said L.J. Godfrey, one of AT&T's representatives. "From AT&T's perspective, a well-informed legislature makes better decisions - not just for us, but for everybody."

The hottest telephone bills up for debate this session include one that lets US WEST keep Yellow Pages revenue and another that fast-tracks spats over cooperation between telephone companies and creates stiffer penalties for unfair practices.

The size of the lobbyist force hovering around legislators can also make it tough to get a lawmaker's ear.

"It's extremely frustrating," said Sue Ashdown, who represents Xmission, a local Internet Service Provider. "I'm ignoring bonfires at my business to go up there and be outgunned and outspent."