FCC Grants Qwest Forbearance Petition

The FCC has agreed to ease regulations on Qwest Communications International Inc.s long-distance operations, a move the company said will help it improve service to subscribers.

The FCC on Feb. 20 voted 4-0, concurring that Qwest no longer is the dominant carrier in its 14-state region and that it faces intense competition from VoIP, wireless and cable providers.

Under a now-expired provision in the 1996 Telecommunications Act, Bell companies were required to run their long-distance businesses separate from their other operations. Qwest had argued it needed to combine its local and long-distance operations to save money and become a stronger competitor.

Competitive carrier association COMPTEL opposed the Qwest petition. Earl Comstock, president and CEO, and Karen Reidy, vice president of regulatory affairs, met several times with commissioners staff members, lobbying against the RBOCs request, but to no avail. Reidy said the organization would wait to read the FCCs official order before deciding whether to appeal the judgment.

Qwest did consent to certain conditions, including freezing per-minute rates and offering certain calling plans to residential consumers who make few long-distance calls.

Reidy said COMPTEL didnt know if those safeguards were sufficient because the order had not been released. The FCC often votes on an issue, then, a few weeks later, publishes the text with the fine print.

The countrys third-largest RBOC filed its forbearance petition with the FCC more than a year ago; Feb. 20 was the deadline for a decision by the commission. Verizon Communications Inc. and AT&T Inc. have presented similar requests to the agency. The FCC does not have to act on those petitions for at least another few months.

Only four of the five commissioners voted on the Qwest petition. Republican Robert McDowell abstained from the vote because, prior to his appointment to the FCC, he was a lawyer for COMPTEL.

Democrats Jonathan Adelstein and Michael Copps said they voted to approve Qwests petition because they were persuaded by the argument that the carrier was having difficulty competing in its own territory.

AT&T Inc.
Qwest Communications International Inc.
Verizon Communications Inc.

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