U S West Communications' plans for deploying new
Internet technology in Oregon are on hold over fears that its Internet-service business
stands to gain a competitive edge.
The Oregon Public Utility Commission has suspended for six
months a USWC request to roll out its new asymmetrical digital subscriber lines (ADSL),
which allow consumers to cruise the Internet and talk on the phone simultaneously.
The agency, along with Oregon Internet-service providers,
is worried that the telco will use the service to help its ISP business, U S West.net,
sign up customers.
"This is an important service, but we're not
going to allow U S West [Communications] to roll it out until we're convinced that it
won't create an unfair competitive advantage," said PUC chairman Ron Eachus, in
a statement. "Internet providers shouldn't be dependent on U S West
[Communications] when U S West is providing a competing service."
Sources said USWC is already offering a 10 percent discount
on local telephone service to consumers who go with U S West.net.
At the same time, the state's ISPs are complaining
that the regional Bell operating company has been slow to install the high-speed T-1
telephone lines they need to accommodate the new ADSL service, leaving U S West.net to
swoop in and sign up each new customer.
"They [the ISPs] are at their wits' end,"
said a commission staffer. "They think they're on their way into history."
USWC officials, meanwhile, were heartened by the
commission's universal belief that ADSL technology would benefit consumers.
"We're pleased that there seems to be so much
interest in getting this service in place," said USWC spokesman Jim Haines.
"We've been working with the commission staff and the ISPs to make this filing
acceptable to everybody, and we're confident we can get it done in less than six
Meanwhile, PUC commissioner Joan Smith said there are other
issues that must be resolved.
For example, the $200 modems needed to take the ADSL
service do not meet industry standards, and would be useless to subscribers trying to
switch to another ISP or move out of the area.
Moreover, the company has proposed charging a customer
trying to switch service providers a $75 exit fee.
"It looks like you could trap a customer," Smith
Nevertheless, Smith said the ADSL technology was needed in
"Everybody agrees that it's a great
service," she said. "And we don't think it will take six months to work
this out. We're hoping to do it in one."