That was the question on the minds of representatives from local telephone exchange carriers (LECs) who huddled at the United States Telephone Association (USTA) National Issues Conference days before legislators passed sweeping telecommunications legislation that would affect everyone's future.
But the question went beyond what would become law when President Clinton fulfilled his promise to sign the bill. "What now" had more to do with what happens when the 280-page document's deadlines and directives arrive at the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and each state's public utility commission (PUC). Or when competitors straddle new markets to come face to face with rivals they've never seen before, such as electric utilities.
Besides the thoughts of price wars and mergers, conference attendees worried about the intimacy they'd have to kindle with their PUCs. The commissions, one speaker noted, will carry the "major burden" of the legislation. Attendees wondered (em as did the senators, representatives, and industry leaders who took the dais (em whether the FCC is prepared for what's to come. If, when felled by the budget ax, the FCC would, like other federal agencies, crawl along by mere workload.
One USTA conference attendee summed up the future this way: "It's a whole new ballgame."
But are the players ready?
Almost. Maybe. First, most agreed, telecommunications reform will need reform. Rep. Rick Boucher (D-VA) cited several areas:
s Antitrust exemptions. Small companies will be able to get enhanced services from neighboring large companies. An exemption is needed to protect smaller entrants from the antitrust implications of those relationships.