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Qwest Communications and Verizon Communications are asking a federal appeals court to block a temporary regulatory freeze placed on rates the regional phone companies may charge competitors to lease their networks. The phone companies contend the freeze and other temporary rules announced last week by the Federal Communications Commission were vacated earlier by the court. “Turning to the courts isn’t our preferred choice, but the commission has left us with little option,” Michael Glover, a Verizon senior vice president and deputy general counsel, said in a statement Tuesday. “Now we find ourselves having to join with others in challenging the FCC’s so-called interim rules that extend the illegal status quo with no clear end in sight.” David Fiske, a spokesman for FCC Chairman Michael Powell, declined to comment. The FCC was forced to begin writing new phone regulations after the appeals court in March threw out FCC rules that allowed states to require the regional companies to lease parts of their networks at deep discounts to long-distance companies. Long-distance carriers said they needed the discounts to compete while the regionals said the prices were set too low, and essentially forced them to subsidize the business of their competitors. The FCC decision issued last week puts on hold rates that major regional phone companies charge MCI, AT&T and other carriers to lease their equipment. The FCC said it needs time to formulate final rules on local competition. If the agency can’t meet the six-month deadline, the regional companies would be free to increase lease rates by as much as 15 percent for existing customers and even more for new subscribers. Those companies include Denver, Colo.-based Qwest Communications International Inc., New York-based Verizon, San Antonio, Texas-based SBC Communications Inc. and BellSouth Corp., based in Atlanta. That cost, or at least some of it, would likely be passed along to consumers, competitors have said. The two regional phone companies, along with trade group the United States Telecom Association filed the appeal late Monday in the U.S. Court of Appeals of the District of Columbia. In the filing, the phone companies called the FCC’s decision the “latest, and most blatant, defiance of this court’s orders.” “This action is inappropriate, and the FCC’s rules should again be vacated,” Qwest spokesman Steve Davis said. Copyright 2004 Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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