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Qwest's Quest: Access to AT&T's Pipes

DENVER -Qwest Communications International Inc. wants regulators in its 14-state service area to force AT&T Broadband to unbundle its high-speed platform.

The Colorado-based telco, which recently broke off access negotiations with AT&T, is also threatening to take its case to the Federal Communications Commission or to court.

Qwest wants to use AT&T's network to deliver high-speed broadband services in areas where it cannot offer digital subscriber line service.

But unlike others who have tried to force an open-access policy on the MSO, the telco is instead asking for "equal access," said Qwest vice president for policy and law Steve Davis.

"AT&T owns the cable line to the home, but is not interested in sharing that line," Davis said. "We were asking for an opportunity to purchase the transport service. But it had become obvious that these talks weren't going anywhere."

Officials for AT&T Broadband said the company is prepared to fight in whichever venue Qwest chooses.

"If they want to handle it in the states, we'll be glad to meet them there," said MSO spokesman Steve Lang.

Qwest had previously asked that AT&T Broadband offer access to its network in Colorado and Washington, arguing that the company should follow the lead of local-exchange carriers that offer non-discriminatory access to competitors.

"We're looking for the same opportunity that we offer to everybody else," Davis said. "Right now, there are two lines into the home: the telephone line, which is heavily regulated, and the cable line, which is not regulated at all."

Davis cited last June's decision by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, in which the court rejected Portland, Ore., regulators' attempt to force AT&T Broadband to open its cable network to Internet-access competitors on the grounds that data-over-cable is a telecommunications service-and thus subject to the juridiction of state regulators.

"Those officials are interested in finding ways to rapidly deploy broadband services," he said.

Lang said the MSO is ready to return to the bargaining table and would welcome Qwest as a participant in its "ISP Choice" trial in nearby Boulder, Colo. AT&T is testing whether its network can accommodate multiple Internet-service providers.

Davis labelled the Boulder experiment a "delaying tactic."

That's about the nicest thing I can call it," he said. "They're going to test, while AOL Time Warner [Inc.] is saying, 'Let's get out there and do it.'"

Davis said Qwest hadn't decided where in its 14-state territory it will broach the issue first. He said state regulators and the FCC could be asked to address it concurrently.