Industry Watch

Self-inflicted injury: Ameritech Corp. will take a $2.25 billion, or $4 per share, fourth-quarter charge to write down its copper telecommunications network. The charge will result in both a quarterly and an annual loss for the Chicago-based Baby Bell. Ameritech is scrambling to upgrade its archaic copper network as fiberoptic, cable and cellular challengers steal away increasing amounts of its business, a process that will only accelerate when the local telephone exchange is fully opened to competition.

AT&T Buys a little ATM: AT&T Corp. is purchasing 12 percent of First Virtual Corp. of Santa Clara, Calif. AT&T Ventures, the telecom giant's venture capital tentacle, will shell out $1.5 million for a piece of the closely held network hardware developer. First Virtual is working on hardware based on asynchronous transfer mode, or ATM, a transmission technology capable of carrying enormous amounts of voice, video and data. A New Calling?: Fairchild Communications Services Company, an operating unit of The Fairchild Corporation of Chantilly, Va., has bought the telecommunications assets of JWP Telecom Inc. for an undisclosed sum. Fairchild will pick up the business operations and inventory of JWP Telecom, a wholly-owned subsidiary of JWP Inc. The acquisition marks a significant expansion of Fairchild's telecom business courtesy of the systems integration, maintenance and manufacturing capabilities of the former JWP Telecom.

Reach out and undercut someone: HTI Voice Solutions Inc. of Southborough, Mass., is the latest company to enter the "call back" business, which gives those calling from one foreign country to another the benefits of American telephone rates, the cheapest in the world. HTI's Global$ave service routes calls placed from one country to another through a U.S. switch, avoiding the often exorbitant fees often charged by foreign national carriers.

Transatlantic Infobahn: Sprint said it will offer "information superhighway" service between North America and Europe via a new 4,600-mile transatlantic fiberoptic cable. Cantat-3 is capable of transmitting 2.4 million bits per second, or a full set of encyclopedias in less than two seconds. Despite the company's crowing, the project was actually the brainchild of Canada's Teleglobe, and the product of a 37-carrier international consortium of which Sprint is a member.

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