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The Supreme Court declined Tuesday to hear a trio of cases seeking to reinstate federal regulations that would force regional phone carriers to share their networks with competitors at discounted rates. The Court, without comment, let stand a lower ruling that the Federal Communications Commission had failed to adequately justify the need for the rules. Tuesday’s decision now forces the FCC to quickly come up with new rules, a process the agency began over the summer. In legal filings, AT&T Corp., MCI Inc. and an association of state utility regulators urged the Court to uphold the government network-sharing rules that are intended to make local phone service more competitive. The long-distance companies, which want a bigger share of the local market, say a failure to reinstate the rules — which expired in June — would eventually lead to higher rates. “One consequence could well be the severe curtailment of competition in local telecommunications markets,” the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners states in its filing, citing recent decisions by AT&T and Z-Tel Communications Inc. to stop offering local service in several states. The FCC rules had allowed states to require the regional carriers — Verizon Communications Inc., BellSouth Corp., Qwest Communications International Inc. and SBC Communications Inc. — to lease parts of their networks at low prices. But in March, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit threw out the rules, saying the FCC had improperly left it to state regulators to decide how to spur competition. The Court, meanwhile, upheld other rules requiring the former Bell companies to allow providers of high-speed DSL Internet service to use their copper wires, but not upgraded fiber optic or fiber-copper lines. The FCC says requiring access to upgraded lines would deter the former Bells from making better systems. Federal regulators are drafting new rules on local competition and in August imposed a six-month freeze on the rates regional companies may charge their competitors. If the agency can’t meet the six-month deadline, the regionals would be free to increase lease rates by as much as 15 percent for existing customers and even more for new subscribers. The cases are National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners et al v. U.S. Telecom Association, AT&T Corp. et al v. U.S. Telecom Association, and the People of the state of California et al v. U.S. Telecom Association, 04-12, 04-15, 04-18. Copyright 2004 Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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