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Utility withdrawing plans to share data among its divisions

SHARE Utility withdrawing plans to share data among its divisions

DENVER — Complaints have prompted Qwest Communications International Inc. to withdraw plans to share customer information among its different divisions.

Joseph P. Nacchio, Qwest's chairman and chief executive, said Monday that Denver-based Qwest will wait until the Federal Communications Commission issues new rules on customer records later this year before developing another plan.

"When many of our customers tell us that they're concerned or don't understand what we're doing, it's time to stop the process and make a change," Nacchio said.

Nacchio said Qwest will notify its 12 million local telephone customers that it will not be sharing account information such as phone numbers called and received.

"It's better late than never," said Robin Hubbard, field director for the Colorado Public Interest Research Group. COPIRG's national counterpart encouraged consumers to pressure the FCC for tougher privacy protection.

Qwest included notices in December bills telling customers they had 30 days to contact the company if they wanted to keep their information private. The move angered and confused many customers and some regulators in the company's 14-state region, which includes Utah, because it was not clear whether Qwest would sell the information to outside companies.

Qwest sent out another flier last week to explain that it was only planning to share information with divisions such as Qwest Wireless or Qwest Dex.

Nacchio said Monday the company did not do a good job of explaining the policy.

"Our communication was not something to be proud of. That's why we're pulling it back. We actually confused them," he said.

Customers trying to opt out of the information sharing program were also frustrated because they were unable to get through to the overloaded toll-free telephone number set up to handle privacy requests.

Fewer than 4 percent of customers had opted out of the program by Monday.

Sen. Paul Wellstone, D-Minn., welcomed Qwest's withdrawal of the program but urged Qwest to let customers dictate whether their information should be shared, rather than forcing them to actively opt out.

"I believe Qwest should say once and for all that it will not now or ever share information with firms with which it has marketing agreements," he said.

Wellstone and Minnesota Attorney General Mike Hatch planned to make the request again Thursday.

The issue had become a distraction as Qwest tried to promote its improved customer-service record and rally customers behind its bid to re-enter the long-distance service market. In a speech later Monday in Boulder, Nacchio said Qwest's re-entry has been delayed by a slew of regulations that also threaten the mass rollout of broadband Internet services.

Meanwhile the company has spent $180 million on consultants to help it test accessibility of its networks to competitors before it can re-enter the market, Nacchio said "Broadband deployment is frozen, and we've got a cottage industry built on making sure the test doesn't end," Nacchio said.