Business Day

Pursuing Al Sikes's Grand Agenda

Published: June 02, 1991

WASHINGTON — By any measure, Alfred C. Sikes has a bold blueprint, and he is in a hurry to put it in place.

As chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, he sees a world in which people could use satellites and high-speed fiber-optic communication lines to take college courses at home, have television sets double as multimedia computer work stations, use communication networks to transmit the contents of an entire library in seconds and track down a person anywhere on the globe to deliver the data.

To speed these developments, the 51-year-old Mr. Sikes has embraced a sweeping agenda to overhaul communications policy in the United States and in the process put companies on equal footing with those in Europe and Japan. He wants to free up space on the crowded airwaves for advanced new services, from pocket-sized radio telephones to interactive television and satellite messaging. He is also pressing to end the practice of assigning valuable licenses through lotteries, a practice he said has allowed speculators to earn huge profits by simply reselling licenses, and is pushing for authority to award licenses through autions. He is also bent on spurring competition by knocking down regulatory barriers that now segregate services into isolated fiefdoms for telephones, cellular service, cable television and broadcasting. He is pressing for legislation to lift key restrictions on the Bell telephone companies while forcing them to open their networks to new rivals.

"For decades, the United States has been the world's Gulliver," he remarked recently in his corner office overlooking downtown Washington. "We assumed we were better. Now, it's quite clear the international competition is fierce. There is hardly an area in which we are competitively engaged in which we are not in a fight for our lives."

But some experts contend that Mr. Sikes's blueprint is itself in danger of being tied up in Lilliputian knots. Democrats in Congress are resisting moves to relax telecommunications rules in several areas; state regulators and corporate opponents have already won court decisions that have stalled F.C.C. moves to ease regulations on both American Telephone and Telegraph and the Bell companies.

Closer to home, the agency's five-member commission faces an onslaught from special-interest groups and is itself riven by dissension and turf battles. Voted Down on Reruns