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US WEST seeking right to expand Internet access

US WEST has asked federal regulators to make it easier for the company to provide high-speed Internet and other data services to customers across its 14-state local phone territory, which includes Idaho.

The company says it needs Federal Communications Commission authority to move Internet and other data traffic across state boundaries and across 27 smaller regulatory subdivisions, called LATAs, that exist within the local phone region.US WEST Communications and other regional Bell companies historically have been prohibited from transporting phone calls and other communications across both state and LATA boundaries because those services would be considered long-distance for regulatory purposes. To provide long-distance service to local customers, the Bells need regulatory approval.

Even though a 1996 telecommunications law gave the Bells permission to provide "incidental" services across LATA boundaries, US WEST said the relief doesn't permit the company to offer a broad array of Internet and other data services, corporate counsel Dan Poole said in an interview. US West is based in Englewood, Colo.

US WEST wants the FCC to use powers under the 1996 law that let the commission remove any regulatory barriers that hinder the development of advanced telecommunications networks.

To comply with the regulatory restrictions, US WEST relies on several companies to move customers' data traffic across state and LATA boundaries because US WEST cannot do so directly, spokes-man David Beigie said.

"With these barriers removed, US WEST could improve the quality and lower the price of Internet connections for customers," the company said. "It could deploy greater bandwidth to smaller markets and alleviate network congestion."

US WEST is free from regulatory constraints to provide an array of Internet and other services outside its 14-state local phone region, which in addition to Idaho includes Arizona, Colorado, Iowa, Minnesota, Montana, Oregon, Nebraska, New Mexico, North Dakota, South Dakota, Utah, Wash-ing-ton and Wyoming.

In January, Bell Atlantic made a similar request to the FCC.

Commission Chairman Bill Kennard said the agency must explore ways to make it easier for companies to provide high-speed connections, particularly into homes.

By the middle of this year, US WEST plans to make available to one-third of its local phone customers lightning-quick phone lines using a developing technology called ADSL, or asymmetrical digital subscriber line.