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Qwest: Cox causes phone outages
Complaint says rewiring disconnected customers
By Ken Alltucker
The Arizona Republic
Tuesday, Jan. 31, 2006

Qwest Communications claims its chief rival, Cox, has improperly accessed the Denver-based telephone company's equipment at apartments, townhouses and condominiums across Arizona, resulting in thousands of hours of service outages for Qwest customers.

Qwest filed a complaint Monday with the Arizona Corporation Commission blaming Cox for tapping its wiring equipment without permission at several multifamily complexes in Arizona.

The telephone company claims that Cox improperly accessed its equipment at least 100 times, in some cases using hacksaws and splitters to sever wires.  Qwest contends that these actions contributed to 100,000 hours of outages for its customers.

At issue is a state-approved "interconnection" agreement that Cox and Qwest signed in 1997 and modified in 2002.  The pact requires Cox to notify Qwest when accessing its wiring.  This is typically done when a Qwest telephone customer switches to Cox.

In some cases, Cox is required to pay a fee to use Qwest's lines and wires.

"They have not placed a single order for these interconnection agreements," Qwest spokesman Jeff Mirasola said.  "It's a direct violation of the commission's rules."

Ivan Johnson, Cox's vice president of communications and Televideo, described Qwest's complaint as "premature."

Johnson said Qwest informed Cox of only eight complexes at which improper connections took place.  Cox plans to investigate evidence of tampering and respond appropriately, he said.

"Qwest has attempted to raise its stature by unfairly vilifying its most successful competitor," Johnson said.  "If there was an interest in resolving the issue, there would not have been a filing of a complaint."

Qwest claims that Cox used various methods to improperly access wiring, including a hacksaw and splitter to tie Cox's lines to Qwest's equipment.  Cox technicians punched holes in connector boxes, damaged equipment and, in one case, removed a grounding clamp used to protect against electrical grid surges, the complaint alleges.

"In several instances, Cox disconnected service to Qwest customers through the improper rewiring it performed during these unlawful entries," Qwest's complaint states.

Qwest wants state regulators to issue a preliminary injunction to stop Cox from accessing its wiring.  The company also seeks an independent audit of such connections to gauge how widespread the practice is.

Qwest and Cox are locked in an intense competition for new customers in the fast-growing Valley.

Qwest, the traditional phone company, has seen its market share erode as Cox, cellular providers and Internet-based companies chip away at its core telephone business.  The company's access lines have dropped from 3.3 million in 2000 to 2.5 million as of early 2005.

Both companies have attempted to convert new customers by packaging multiple services at discounted rates.  These packages usually consist of phone, high-speed Internet and pay television.  The idea is that the more services a customer has with a company, the less likely the customer is to switch to a competitor.

The Qwest complaint isn't the first spat over network connections between a traditional telephone company and a cable provider.

In 2003, SBC Communications filed a similar complaint against Cox in Oklahoma.  The Oklahoma Corporation Commission ruled that Cox should be required to place an order to access SBC's wiring.  Also, the state decided that Cox must pay SBC one-time charges for service switchovers and monthly charges of more than $2 for each customer that uses SBC's wiring.  Cox has appealed the decision.

Contact the reporter at ken.alltucker@arizonarepublic.com or (602) 444-8285.

http://www.azcentral.com/arizonarepublic/business/articles/0131qwest31.html