Chalk one up for Ed Whitacre. In mid-February, things looked dire for the SBC Communications chief's bid to enter the long-distance market. That's when the Justice Dept. said SBC's petition to provide long-distance service in Texas had problems. But on June 13, DOJ gave an unexpected O.K. to a revised SBC application detailing how it gives rival phone companies access to its network.

The approval signals the petition may also pass muster with the Federal Communications Commission. So Whitacre suddenly has gained clout against competitors such as AT&T. Since telecom laws were relaxed in 1996, he has spent billions on acquisitions and technology to turn SBC from a regional monopoly into a global player. Long distance was the final piece of his plan.

A charming but tough negotiator, Whitacre has been called a gunslinger by FCC officials for his efforts to keep rivals out of SBC territory. That he now grasps regulatory requirements suggests that SBC's bids for long-distance service in California and Kansas could come swiftly.

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