While U S West lobbies, rural customers wait

While U S West lobbies, rural customers wait by George C. Landrith, Executive Director, Frontiers of Freedom It appears U S West is more interested in lobbying for special favors from government than competing and providing customers with quality service and reasonable prices. Meanwhile, consumers are left waiting for U S West to make good on its many unkept promises.

Recently, as part of a lobbying campaign, U S West sent letters to elected officials throughout the west distorting and disparaging the views of Frontiers of Freedom, an organization that both Senator Malcolm Wallop and I represent. Having spent 18 years representing the interests of rural citizens as a United States Senator from Wyoming, Malcolm Wallop developed a pretty thick skin and usually wouldn't bother responding to such nonsense. But because the stakes are so high for rural phone customers, I thought it was important to set the record straight.

In a Frontiers of Freedom publication issued earlier this year, we noted that U S West has sold approximately 600 rural telephone exchanges affecting almost a million customers, while at the same time claiming to be champions of rural interests. U S West took offense when we pointed out that such behavior is the height of hypocrisy. Similarly, U S West didn't like it when we urged regulators and elected officials to look beyond their self-serving claims that all they need is more "regulatory flexibility" in order to serve rural areas.

Frontiers of Freedom is an avid proponent of less regulation and regulatory reform. However, in this case, U S West calls for "regulatory reform" simply to strengthen its monopolistic grip on local phone service. We believe that competition is the best way to promote the consumer good. However, so-called reform aimed at preventing competition, is no reform at all.

Our message on this issue is straightforward and unwavering. Competition is the best way to bring consumers better telephone service and lower prices. U S West's monopoly power is preventing meaningful competition in local phone markets. As a result, consumers receive poor service and pay inflated prices. U S West asks to be allowed to compete in the long-distance telephone market and in the high speed Internet market while it steadfastly refuses to open its local phone monopolies to competition. U S West cannot have it both ways.

U S West hopes to convince lawmakers in Washington to tinker with the Telecom Act for the benefits of U S West � not its customers. Specifically, local phone monopolies are engaged in a fierce and misleading lobbying campaign to avoid having any competition in local phone service and to convince Washington that without them, rural America will be left out of cutting-edge telecommunications systems.

Tell that to rural citizens who have no choice but to use U S West's system and who routinely lose dial tones or waste 15 minutes trying to send a short fax � you'll likely get a western sized "harrumph." U S West and other local monopolies have done everything in their power to protect their local monopolies, but precious little to serve their rural customers.

Interestingly, in their recent spate of letters to western officials, U S West conceded that what we've said all along is true � that indeed they have sold these rural telephone exchanges. But, they now say they did so only when it was in the best interests of their customers. Typical monopoly � tell rural customers what is good for us rather than allowing us to decide for ourselves.

For those of us who believe that consumers deserve a choice and that competition is the best way to provide that choice, U S West's attitude is simply unacceptable. Thus, we must continue to work to open up local telephone monopolies to competition. Then consumers will have a choice and can decide for themselves who really has their best interests at heart.

Frontiers of Freedom is dedicated to protecting the constitutional rights of all Americans, restoring constitutional limits on the extent and power of government, and promoting the free enterprise system. For more information visit them on the web at www.ff.org.

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