Washington regulators have been asked to mediate a dispute between AT&T; and US West Communications over access to local telephone markets in eight Western and Midwestern states.
AT&T;’s request, filed Friday with the Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission, triggered a “put-up-or-shut up” response from US West Monday.
AT&T; dialed up the heat just hours later.
“There are hundreds of issues that must be resolved in our negotiations before residential and business customers in Washington can be offered a true choice of local service providers,” AT&T; Vice President Rick Bailey said.
US West spokesman Dave Banks said its former corporate parent is all talk, no action. “We think they’re trying to paint us as anti-competitive,” he said.
The telephonic war of words was sparked by what’s called interconnectivity, the key to restoring competition for local telephone service.
Interconnectivity is the capability of competing local telephone systems to connect with one another.
AT&T; and other long-distance companies were banned from carrying local calls until February, when President Clinton signed legislation deregulating the telecommunications industry.
The long-distance companies can re-enter local markets and, in return, providers of local service like US West and GTE can carry interstate calls.
But AT&T; spokeswoman Susan Carpenter said there have been only 18 meetings between US West and AT&T; representatives since March 1 to address the details that will allow their local networks to work together.
“We would meet every day if we could,” she said.
The deregulation bill sets several deadlines for resolving disputes. Mediation is allowed after 90 days, arbitration after 135, with final resolution in nine months.
Carpenter said AT&T; will seek arbitration if mediation does not move the talks with US West forward.
She said the company asked the Washington commission to take the lead, with the seven other state commissions observing, because the company wants to begin offering service in the state by the end of the year.
US West, purveyor of local service to 25 million customers in 14 Western states, said it already had offered interconnectivity to AT&T.;
US West Vice President Scott McClellan noted the company has already come to terms with several smaller local competitors, including Nextlink in Spokane.
“We’re confident we can connect with AT&T; as soon as they are ready,” he said.
The company’s director of interconnectivity, Mark Reynolds, said the talks have faltered because AT&T; has talked too much theory and not enough nuts and bolts.
He questioned the value other states would put on an agreement mediated in Washington because some issues vary from state to state.
Meanwhile, in Chicago, it was AT&T; that was being accused of dragging its feet in talks that would open up local phone competition. Ameritech Corp. suggested mediation, an idea AT&T; said it favored if it would speed things up.
And AT&T; Chief Executive Officer Robert Allen said he doesn’t expect income to suffer because of long-distance business lost to competitors.
“… Speaking for AT&T;, any revenue we lose there will be more than made up in non-traditional services.” he said. “We plan to take at least a third of the local market within a few years.”