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RealTime IT News

Qwest Pledges to Open Local Markets

Qwest Communications International Inc. Tuesday introduced a series of sweeping policy changes, creating a new wholesale division to handle business with competitive local exchange carriers.

Qwest intends to establish a "Performance Assurance Plan" designed to enhance the quality of service it delivers to CLECs by offering compensation if it fails to fulfill certain service level agreements.

But the plan would only go into effect if Qwest's entrance into long distance services were approved.

The federal Telecommunications Act of 1996 prohibits former "Baby Bell" operators from providing long distance in the areas to which they provide local service until they prove they have permitted sufficient competition from smaller companies.

Qwest also dropped 17 lawsuits against state regulators in a gesture that demonstrates its intent to bolster competition in its service area and eliminate state barriers to entering the lucrative long distance calling market.

The lawsuits were originally filed by U S West, which was recently acquired by Qwest. The suits had challenged states' authority to regulate interconnection obligations, collocation equipment, prices and the bundling of services.

CLECs criticized the U S WEST lawsuits as an orchestrated attempt to slow the progress of local market competition and the deployment of broadband services.

According to Qwest, its pro-competitive initiatives for CLECs are designed to speed-up the deployment of competitive calling and Internet services in tandem with increasing network efficiency.

Steve Davis, Qwest senior vice president for policy and law, said the move doesn't just open the door to competitors it takes down the door altogether.

"Our wholesale customers will have faster, easier access to our network, which will create greater competition and more choices for consumers," Davis said.

But Qwest's voluntarily offering to upgrade nearly 600 performance benchmarks with CLECs is falling on deaf ears among several of its local rivals that refer to the company as "Qworst."

Many CLECs have reported experiencing nothing but problems since Qwest acquired U S West. One firm, that preferred to remain unnamed, said the traditional Qwest representative is a thing of the past and with it, the customer service is gone, there are billing errors galore, and the business relationship is lightly to end up in court.

CLECs complaints to local public utilities range from lost orders and installation delays in excess of three-months, to no assistance at all. Some CLECs see no end in sight for Qwest's problems and are opting to switch carriers in order to receive better customer service.

Qwest's Davis stands firm that the company is legitimately committed to improving competition in its service area and said that it is reviewing additional market opening proposals that will be announced in the near future.

"This is a significant step in a series that Qwest will make over the next few months to increase competition and give consumers more choices for local phone service," Davis said.

    The Qwest pro-competitive initiatives include:
  • CLEC-to-CLEC connections for the purpose of mutually exchanging local traffic
  • Permitting collocation of high-speed packet data switches in Qwest central offices
  • Offering CLECs the option of pre-ordering unbundled dedicated interoffice transport prior to completing the CLECs collocation space in Qwest central offices
  • Offering a single point of interconnection per Local Access Transport Area
  • Offering CLECs a 90 day collocation interval and the ability to reserve collocation space

Greg Casey, Qwest executive vice president for wholesale markets, said the firm is proactively taking a fresh approach to meet t