By LAURIE ASSEO
WASHINGTON — The new owner of regional phone company U S West lost a Supreme Court appeal today of Washington state rules aimed at opening local phone service to competition.
The court, without comment, turned down Qwest Corp.’s argument that the rules violated the 1996 federal Telecommunications Act. Qwest acquired U S West earlier this year.
The telecommunications law aims to let customers nationwide choose their local phone company much as they now can choose a long-distance company.
The Federal Communications Commission sets rules governing such competition. State public utility commissions can set additional requirements as long as they do not conflict with the federal law.
In 1996, three companies began negotiating with U S West to begin offering local service by connecting with U S West facilities. The companies were MCImetro Access, Sprint Communications and AT&T Communications of the Pacific Northwest.
The Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission set a number of rules, including one requiring U S West to combine otherwise separate parts of its network at the request of its prospective competitors. Another rule required U S West to allow MCImetro and AT&T to put switching equipment on U S West property.
Both sides appealed to federal court, and a judge in Seattle upheld the rule regarding switching equipment, but threw out the rule requiring U S West to combine part of its network if the competitor requested it.
The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld both rules. It said the federal telecommunications law does not require either rule but also did not bar states from adopting the rules themselves.
In the appeal acted on today, Qwest’s lawyers said it should not have to "reconfigure the pieces of its network to suit its competitors’ wishes." The 9th Circuit court’s rulings on both issues conflicted with decisions by two other federal appeals courts that at least partially threw out similar rules set by the FCC, the lawyers said.
Lawyers for Washington state and the three competing phone companies said the 9th Circuit court had the authority to rule as it did.
The case is Qwest Corp. v. MCI Telecommunications, 00-214.
On the Net: For the appeals court ruling in MCI Telecommunications v. U S West:
ttp://www.uscourts.gov/links.html and click on 9th Circuit.
Copyright ©2000 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.
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