Last year a group of liberal Democratic senators, under the leadership of Wayne Morse of Oregon, filibustered unsuccessfully against the Administration's Telstar bill. This bill, which finally passed after cloture was voted for the first time in about 20 years, remains probably the worst single piece of legislation yet to receive President Kennedy's support.
The Telstar act constituted an enormous gift to the American Telephone and Telegraph Company, which was allowed to acquire a controlling interest in the Federally-chartered Communications Satellite Corporation. A.T.&T. thus added to its already indecently long list of monopolies the exclusive rights over international communications via orbiting space vehicles. There seemed to be no justification for this giveaway beyond a mystical belief in the inferiority of government enterprise to private enterprise--in this case a private venture consisting solely of the expectation of huge profits, but without the trouble-some details of capital investment, risk, or that free competition widely supposed to be vital to the "individual initiative" giant corporations are thought invariably to exercise.
The reasoning which compelled Morse and his colleagues to oppose the Telstar bill makes as much sense today as it did a year ago. A.T.&T. was given control over a potentially lucrative communications network. It received, absolutely free, the benefit of billions of dollars worth of scientific research paid for by the taxpayers. In addition, the granting of Telstar to a private corporation created a dubious international situation. Every other big country in the world has a communications monopoly owned by the state; the governments of these countries, if they want to use the facilities of the Communications Satellite Corporation, must enter into agreements with A.T.&T. The U.S. State Department has only the right to "advise" the telephone company on these agreements. A.T.&T., in any case, has a large financial interest in already existing means of communication, international and otherwise, and this interest might be threatened by the creation of a truly effective, efficient satellite network.
Now the Senate has compounded its error by agreeing to finance another $44 million worth of communications satellite research which will directly aid the private satellite corporation. When the original Telstar bill was passed, it was understood that A.T.&T. would help pay for future research. It has not yet shown any willingness to do so.
The late Sen. Kefauver's last act in public life was to introduce an amendment to the Administration's current space authorization bill designed to prevent A.T.&T. from using government-financed research without paying for it. The amendment, of course, was defeated. Instead, the Senate passed a meaningless amendment forbidding the National Aeronautics and Space Agency to provide services for the exclusive benefit of private companies. The behavior of both the Senate and the Administration on this matter has been thoroughly disgraceful.