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Qwest: Comcast blocked calls

Qwest Communications is accusing industry rival Comcast Corp. of blocking some of the cable company’s own Spokane customers from dialing a number that could switch their phone service to Qwest.

The communications companies are locked in competition for voice, Internet and video customers. Each spends huge amounts on ads to lure customers away from the other.

On Friday, Qwest sent a letter to Comcast’s Philadelphia main office, asking it to stop blocking Eastern Washington callers from dialing an 800 number used by Qwest to switch phone customers away from Comcast.

Shasha Richardson, a Qwest spokeswoman in Seattle, said the problem started in late May and apparently ended last week after officials from the two companies talked by phone. Richardson said Qwest is concerned the problem is wider than the Spokane area. Consumers in Portland and Vancouver, Wash., said they were having similar problems, she said.

Puyallup-based Comcast spokesman Walt Neary said Monday that Comcast is not blocking its phone customers from calling Qwest. He said the company, the largest cable provider in the United States, believes the problem stems from “technical routing” among service providers in Oregon and Washington.

“We apologize for any inconvenience Comcast customers might have experienced,” Neary said.

Also Monday, Seattle-based Qwest officials said they were waiting for a response from Comcast on the cease-and-desist request. Qwest also sent copies of the letter to the state attorney general and to Washington’s utilities commission. It cited instances of Spokane-area customers failing to reach the Qwest 800 number when using a Comcast digital voice service.

More than a year ago, Comcast offered state customers the option of changing from Qwest’s phone service to its own network, based on digital voice options. Comcast has not said how many voice customers it now has in Spokane.

Richardson said Spokane resident Dorothy Lugo alerted Qwest to the problem. Lugo, 65, switched from Qwest to Comcast’s voice service in late May. But a day after the change to Comcast, Lugo changed her mind and tried to contact Qwest to restore her phone service.

“It wouldn’t go through when I called from my home phone,” Lugo said. Only by calling with her cell phone could she reach the Qwest number, Lugo said.

Richardson cited the case of Spokane caller Julie Grant, who said she’s satisfied with Comcast’s service but still couldn’t reach Qwest’s 800 number.

In an interview, Grant said she was asked by friends who work at Qwest to dial the number, (800) 244-1111, a few weeks ago.

“It was an instant busy signal. Usually a busy signal starts with a pause. This was instantly a busy signal,” Grant said.

After contacting her friends, a Qwest representative called Grant and asked her to call the 800 number again Friday. Her call went through, Grant said.

Richardson said Qwest is asking Comcast officials to make a statement in writing saying the problem won’t occur. She declined to say what Qwest’s next step might be.

“We consider this activity to be an anti-competitive practice,” she said. “After we hear from them, then we would have to review what our options are, which could include following up with the (utilities commission) with the attorney general or legally in court.”