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PRC orders Qwest to restore Internet service
The Associated Press
Denver Post
Thursday, January 1, 2009

LAS CRUCES, NM New Mexico regulators have ordered Qwest to restore service to customers of independently owned and operated Internet service provider SkyWi Inc. after it disconnected the provider because of a $1.7 million debt.  The state Public Regulation Commission held an emergency meeting Wednesday and ordered Qwest to immediately begin the process of restoring service to critical SkyWi customers and to report back to the PRC by Friday morning.

Qwest spokesman Mark Molzen said Qwest is cooperating with the PRC and has deployed "all available resources to restore service in the interest of customer service and public safety."

The PRC wants SkyWi to give Qwest a list of its customers prioritized by public health and safety and also by economic concerns.

The commission also ordered SkyWi to release control of customers' telephone numbers to enable those customers to seek alternative providers.

Albuquerque-based SkyWi buys wholesale Internet services through Qwest before reselling them to its customers.  Qwest had asked SkyWi to pay more than $580,000 by Monday to continue the service, Molzen said.

Tuesday's disconnection was no surprise to SkyWi, Molzen said.

"We notified SkyWi several months in advance and numerous times," he said.

SkyWi's chief development officer, Don Levy, said it owes money to Qwest, but not $1.7 million.  He would not disclose how much SkyWi believes it owes.

He also would not say whether SkyWi customers were notified service was being disconnected.

The decision to disconnect SkyWi affected Eddy County government, which found itself without phone service and scrambled to get hooked back up.  The system was provided by One Connect.

Eddy County Manager Steve Massey in Carlsbad said he had not known in advance that Qwest was disconnecting SkyWi.  The Eddy County sheriff's 911 emergency line was not affected.

SkyWi sued Qwest in December, alleging anti-competitive behavior.

"We have no issue with Qwest competing with us for the same customers, as that is the nature of healthy competition," Jack Leach, president of SkyWi, said in a news release.  "But Qwest has opted to take unfair advantage of their control over the telecom networks in this region to create barriers that destroy the competitiveness of smaller ISPs."

SkyWi acquired One Connect IP and ZiaNet in September, and Levy said SkyWi realized there were problems between the two companies and Qwest.

The lawsuit accuses Qwest of willfully and routinely engaging in practices designed to remove effective competition from its markets, Levy said.

The PRC said it's decision to require Qwest to restore service to critical customers is an interim order pending a decision by the federal court on SkyWi's request for a preliminary injunction in its lawsuit against Qwest.