Happy holidays from AT & T


Opponents of AT & T's pending merger with MediaOne group are irked by the timing of a nine-page list of safeguards issued last week and aimed at showing that the company won't program cable systems run by a partnership with Time Warner (see story, page 11).

The plan is an attempt to sway regulators against conditioning the merger's approval on asset sales. The formal proposal to the FCC was dated April 18 and made public on the eve of Passover.

Critics of the merger say AT & T is making a habit of floating important alterations to the pending deal just before major holidays. AT & T made a similar move two days before Christmas, when the company buried a surprise request for an 18-month grace period on any government-ordered divestitures in the back pages of what was expected to be a routine reply to public comments on the merger. The pre-holiday announcements have made it hard for public advocacy groups to quickly evaluate and comment on the proposals because most have little more than skeleton crews guarding the phones. "This is becoming rather annoying," said Media Access Project's Andrew Schwartzman.

But AT & T officials insist there is no conspiracy to catch critics unprepared. While the proximity of last week's filing to Passover and Easter was an unfortunate coincidence, they say, the earlier grace period request was filed by the Dec. 23 deadline set by the FCC.