TELECOM WATCH

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AT&T's New Direction: AT&T, Basking Ridge, N.J., said it will market and distribute Hughes Electronic Corp.'s direct broadcast satellite television service and will acquire a 2.5 percent equity interest in the unit for $137.5 million. AT&T said it will begin offering the service, DIRECTV, and equipment to 90 million customers by mid- summer. AT&T has options to increase its stake up to 30 percent in the next five years.


Hughes recently formed its DBS company, DIRECTV International Inc. The new unit becomes the third company in Hughes' Telecommunications and Space Co. The restructuring means more management focus and resources will be dedicated to the program, said Steven D. Dorfman, president of Hughes Telecommunications and Space. Hughes will roll out the services first in Latin America, he said.

FCC -- Slamming Back: The Federal Communications Commission has opened a consumer protection branch to handle the nearly 50,000 telephone and written complaints it receives from consumers every year. The new group is expected to spend a lot of time dealing with slamming, the practice of changing a long distance customer's service without permission.

Last month, the FCC charged five carriers with forfeiture penalties for illegally switching services. AT&T must pay $40,000, and MCI got hit with a $80,000 penalty for two separate violations.

Speed for Beantown: Continental Cablevision and BBN Planet, both of Boston, launched a six-month trial of high-speed Internet access and on-line services over cable modems. About 200 Boston households will try out the service beginning this month.

Creating Companies: MCI Communications Corp., Washington, D.C., will use the direct broadcast satellite spectrum it recently won in an FCC auction to offer information and entertainment services to businesses and consumers.

MCI said it will create a new company with partner NewsCorp to enter the DBS video, audio and data market. The new industry is expected to generate revenues of $7 billion by 2000. MCI and NewsCorp each will own half of the company.
The alliance will develop a broad range of digitized products for both televisions and personal computers. Businesses are expected to use digital satellite to deliver software, send corporate information and do training.

Getting the Message: ORBCOMM, Dulles, Va., last week began offering its satellite-based, two-way telecommunications system, the first of its kind to go on the market. Using low-earth orbit (LEO) satellites, the constellation serves as a wireless global messaging system.

A Long Marriage: GTE Corp., Stamford, Conn., has formed a 30-year cooperative joint venture company with Guangzhou Guangtong Resources Co. in China to develop wireless telecommunications throughout the country.

GTE initially will invest $28 million to design, build and install wireless networks, provide training and offer technical consulting. The venture's first project will be a wireless paging system for 25 cities.

Sleeping with the Enemy: Sprint Telecommunications Network, Kansas City, Mo., has formed a partnership with AT&T, Basking Ridge, N.J., to supply code division multiple access, or CDMA, personal communications equipment and services for Sprint's nationwide wireless network.

AT&T will supply and install 60 percent of the hardware, software, switching equipment and base stations for the project. The entire project, according to Sprint, will cost $3 billion. The venture is acquiring cell sites and relocating companies that previously used that spectrum.
The Sprint network is expected to be open in 20 to 25 major cities by December 1996. The first -- and so far, the only -- of the venture's affiliates to offer services is American Personal Communications, Bethesda, Md., which launched its product under the Sprint Spectrum brand name in November.

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