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June 1, 2000

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Regulatory News - New Group Tests US WEST's Support Systems

Posted:  06/2000

New Group Tests US WEST’s Support Systems
By Kim Sunderland

There’s a new OSS gig in town, and it’s
called the Regional Oversight Committee (www.nrri.ohio-state.edu/oss.htm).
This group heads up a collaborative process to establish, conduct and evaluate a
test of the operational support systems of US WEST Inc. (www.uswest.com).The ROC’s main function is to determine whether US WEST can provide operational support at levels necessary for Section 271 of the Telecommunications Act of 1996 approval. “The ROC OSS collaborative has succeeded beyond what many people had expected when the collaborative was first proposed last year,” ROC Chairman Bob Rowe says. “We have had excellent, constructive participation from US WEST, and from large and small competitors. If we keep working together like this, the result should be a very high-quality OSS system, developed through an open, efficient process.”Recently,
the ROC devoted half a day of its regularly scheduled monthly meeting to review
and discuss the OSS testing. It also heard testimony from officials with the
U.S. Department of Justice (www.usdoj.gov),
the FCC (www.fcc.gov), and state and industry
participants in the ROC test.Rowe says that as a result of the OSS group’s success so far, various states and other parties are interested in using similar multistate approaches in future Sec. 271 issues.“The commitment to military-style testing–‘test until you pass’–means the project will be driven by success, not by the calendar,” Rowe says.Since
Bell Atlantic Corp.’s (www.bell-atl.com)
lousy first showing at providing long distance in New York, and now SBC Com-munications
Inc.’s (www.sbc.com) revamped application in
Texas, it’s no wonder the competitors and the regulators are playing it safe
with US WEST’s OSS tests.“The states are committed to accelerating US WEST’s entry into the interLATA long-distance business,” Solomon D. Trujillo, chairman, president and CEO of US WEST, wrote in a letter agreeing to the regionwide OSS testing. “US WEST has been working for the last three years to meet the checklist and has expended hundreds of millions of dollars in the process. US WEST will continue its efforts to maintain compliance with the checklist, before and after receiving interLATA relief.”While those are encouraging words, competitors refer to US WEST as “US Worst” when it comes to leveling the competitive playing field. Many competitors claim the BOC is the hardest to work with and the slowest to catch up with the times.Largely
because of that reputation, 12 CLECs backed by their lobbying group ALTS (www.alts.org)
are involved in reviewing US WEST’s OSS test plan. The competitors have sought
from ROC a chance to become educated on US WEST’s documentation, as well as to
allow them time to resolve any differences relative to pending disputes with US
WEST.Speed FreakThe pending US WEST-Qwest Communications International Inc. merger presented serious issues for state commissions to examine in considering the regionwide OSS test.Rowe says a result of the merger has been to focus US WEST more clearly on opening its local market.US
WEST turned up the heat on its in-region long distance entry to help close the
merger with Qwest (www.qwest.net). Federal
law requires US WEST to spin off its long-distance operations in all 14 states
where it does business for the merger to be considered. By securing in-region
long-distance approval, US WEST hopes to keep Qwest from having to exit the
long-distance market and start from scratch, explains Mitchell F. Brecher, a
partner with the Washington offices of Greenberg Traurig (www.gtlaw.com).ROC Executive MembersChairman Bob Rowe, commissioner with the Montana Public Service CommissionMarilyn Showalter, chairwoman of the Washington Utilities and Transportation CommissionAnne Boyle, commissioner with the Nebraska Public Service CommissionEd Garvey, chairman of the Minnesota PublicUtilities CommissionAllan Thoms, chairman of the Iowa Utilities BoardStephen F. Mecham, chairman of the Utah PublicService CommissionRay Gifford, chairman of the Colorado PublicUtilities CommissionAttempting to obtain in-region interLATA approval, US WEST has Section 271 applications pending at all of the state commissions in its region.Once the third-party OSS tests are approved, each state would be in a position to support US WEST’s long-distance applications with the FCC, says David Fish, executive director of strategic communications in US WEST’s Washington office.Seeking
PerfectionThe FCC likely is hopeful the regionwide OSS testing strategy helps it avoid the kinds of problems Bell Atlantic incurred in New York. Because of backsliding on the Section 271 approval in that state, Bell Atlantic agreed in early March to pay up to $27 million in fines and restitution.The
number of competitor complaints and the size of the agreed-upon penalty have led
industry analysts to speculate that the authority granted to Bell Atlantic was
premature, a regulatory consultant at Miller Isar (www.millerisar.com)
says. The FCC intends to be meticulous in its evaluation of all BOC 271
applications, and require that such filings sustain rigorous state utility
commission reviews, according to the source.SBC is fully aware of this cautious approach which may be behind the refiling of its Section 271 application in Texas. The refiling resulted in a restarting of the clock, giving the FCC until July to rule on the application.Hassle-Free
Testing?In related news, US WEST has cut a deal with 13 CLECs to share phone lines regionally for the simultaneous provisioning of voice and data traffic.The multicompany, regionwide agreement is the first of its kind in the United States, and it “will speed and broaden availability of high-speed Internet and broadband services to millions more consumers in US WEST’s 14-state territory,” according to John Kelley, president of wholesale markets for US WEST.“This agreement underscores our willingness to go the extra mile in opening up our network to competitors,” Kelley says. “It comes at a time when demand for high-speed Internet access has never been greater.”

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