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AT&T looking local

The company researches different technologies for directly linking its long-distance network to homes and businesses, as it begins thinking about an alternative to leased lines.

AT&T is researching different technologies for directly connecting its long-distance network to homes and businesses, as it begins thinking about an alternative to providing that link via leased phone lines.

David Dornan, CEO of the nation's largest long-distance company, said Tuesday that AT&T had identified three systems as early favorites to provide the connection between its telephone networks and residential or business customers: cable TV lines, steroid-injected wireless networks and electrical grids.

The carrier might use all three depending on certain factors. Wireless networks, for instance, are best for reaching rural areas where a cable network would be too expensive to build, Dornan said.

AT&T emerged as one of the winners last week when the Federal Communications Commission decided to maintain its rules forcing SBC, Qwest Communications, Verizon Communications and Bellsouth to open their telephone networks to competition. Like competitor WorldCom, AT&T has made a successful business out of leasing the local networks, then offering local phone service.

The FCC ruling gives AT&T at least three more years before the rules will be looked at again, enough time to build its own networks to replace the ones its been leasing from the Bells.

Dornan, speaking at the Merrill Lynch Global Communications Conference in New York, said the three technologies the carrier is investigating are a more "efficient way than trying to wire every home." He did not provide additional details, such as a construction timetables.

WorldCom, the other big winner in last week's FCC showdown, has yet to make any similar comments.

As for the companies on the losing side, Randall Stephenson, chief financial officer of lessor SBC, spoke at the same conference Tuesday, saying the FCC's decision will be appealed to a court. Such an appeal could mean years of confusion and stalemating while lawyers hammer away. "This is obviously another setback," Stephenson said.