PUC requires US West to share its phone lines with competitors

US West must share its telephone lines with competitors who offer digital subscriber line (DSL) high-speed Internet access, the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission ruled.

But the PUC ruling on Wednesday left unclear who must pay for increased DSL competition. Under the ruling, US West will be able to charge about 33 percent more for DSL lines offered by competitors.

It would continue to collect $18 a month from each consumer, while collecting an additional $6.05 a month per line from DSL competitors. The competitors could choose to pass the $6.05 charge on to consumers.

The PUC ruling follows a similar ruling last month by the Federal Communications Commission.

It appears likely to speed up DSL competition by several months by setting a more aggressive rollout schedule than the FCC did. Minnesota telecom firms said the ruling puts Minnesota at the forefront of the nation in DSL competition.

DSL service allows a personal computer to access the Internet five or more times faster than a conventional computer modem, and consumers can talk on the phone while surfing the Net.

Rhythms NetConnections of Englewood, Colo., whose complaint to the PUC led to the ruling, said US West should not be allowed to charge DSL competitors $6.05 a month to share a telephone line.

''When you add services to a phone line, the cost of the phone line doesn't change,'' said Jeff Blumenfeld, general counsel for Rhythms NetConnections. ''They haven't turned an $18 telephone line into a $24 line.''

John Kelley, Denver-based president of wholesale markets for US West, also praised the PUC decision. But he said US West deserved the extra $6.05 a month because line-sharing would require the company to add more equipment and technicians.

''We're not charging anything additional to the end-user. We're charging (competitors) for the services needed to get line-sharing set up,'' Kelley said.

The PUC said it will review DSL line-sharing costs in six months before making a final ruling on what US West can charge.

For months, US West has been offering customers simultaneous DSL and voice services on one telephone line. Citing technical concerns, it had refused to let DSL competitors offer their DSL service on US West voice lines.

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