Qwest seeks access to AT&T cable network

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TELECOMMUNICATIONS AND BROADBAND Internet services provider Qwest Communications International on Thursday made a pitch to gain equal access to AT&T's broadband network. AT&T Broadband called the announcement "public posturing."

The move comes as part of the continuing effort by ISPs to be able to provide competing Internet services over high-speed networks owned by AT&T and other backbone operators. AT&T Broadband, along with Time Warner and others, have been under pressure from legislators and consumer groups to open their networks to ISPs, which proponents say will spur competition.

Denver, Colo.-based Qwest, in this case, would like to fill holes or expand its DSL (digital subscriber line) coverage in the states of Colorado and Washington by connecting to AT&T's cable networks, said Steve Davis, Qwest's senior vice president for policy and law. Qwest sent a letter this week to Daniel Somers, AT&T Broadband's president and chief executive officer, to begin negotiations immediately.

"Qwest ought to know better," said Steve Lang, an AT&T Broadband spokesman.

In a separate letter to AT&T Broadband delivered earlier this month, Qwest commended the cable provider for giving ISPs access to its broadband network during a so-called "open access" trial in Boulder, Colo., Lang said. Within that letter, Qwest asked to be part of the trial, he said. Qwest spokesman Steve Hammack confirmed the letter was sent and that the company was interested in joining the trial.

AT&T Broadband officials have been trading phone calls with Qwest about joining the trial that has at least seven ISPs participating, Lang said.

The U.S. Federal Communication Commission is conducting a "notice of inquiry" proceeding, which focuses on how or whether ISPs' access to cable networks should be regulated, Lang said. Qwest knows there currently is no scalable, tested method of providing ISP choice over a cable network in mass distribution, he said. Because of these factors, he said he was surprised by the announcement.

"I don't know what they are smoking over there," Lang said.

In its letter this week to AT&T Broadband's president, Qwest cited a federal ruling that said the transport portion of AT&T's high-speed Internet access services offered over AT&T's broadband facilities constitutes a telecommunications service. That means AT&T cannot discriminate against its competitors by prohibiting access to those facilities for providing service, Qwest said. The case does not apply in Colorado, Lang of AT&T Broadband said.

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