TUCSON - The Federal Communications Commission should approve Qwest Communications’ application to provide long distance services in Arizona, the Justice Department said Thursday.
R. Hewitt Pate, assistant attorney general in charge of the antitrust division, said the Justice Department believes “there are no longer any material obstacles to competition in Arizona created by Qwest.’’
The department conducted an evaluation of an application by Qwest to offer long distance services in the state, concluding that the company has been generally successful in allowing competition in its local markets.
“Conditions in Arizona local telecommunications markets appear favorable to fostering competition. Facilities-based competitors have made progress in penetrating both the business and residential markets,’’ Pate said.
“This recommendation by the DOJ was the cleanest recommendation that we have seen within our 14 states, without stipulations and caveats,’’ said Jeff Mirasola, a spokesman for Qwest in Phoenix.
He said such a positive recommendation proves the company has opened its markets to competitors and that Qwest’s entry into the long distance business should be good for customers.
Mirasola said the FCC is expected to make its final determination on Dec. 3 - within 90 days - “and we fully expect and are optimistic and confident that we’re going to get FCC approval.’’
If that happens, after a 10-day waiting period, Qwest will be able to sell long-distance service by mid-December, he said.
Qwest started the process seeking approval for long distance service in February 1999, but officially filed its application Sept. 4 to offer long distance services under the Telecommunications Act of 1996, Mirasola said.
Qwest and other independent Bell Operating Companies have been prohibited from providing such services in their respective regions as part of the divestiture of AT&T and also by the Telecommunications Act - until showing the FCC they have met legal requirements aimed at opening up a particular state’s local telecommunications markets to competition.
Mirasola said 20 percent of the local service market in Arizona now is served by Qwest competitors. “Competition is robust; this is a good thing for consumers,’’ he said.
The FCC is required to consult with the Justice Department and to give substantial weight to its assessment of competitive conditions and whether a Bell Operating Company should be allowed to offer in-region long distance.