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Qwest Sues UTOPIA

Qwest Sues UTOPIA

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- Qwest has sued the UTOPIA high-speed fiber optic project, seeking to keep it from using Qwest telephone poles without permission and complaining the project has an unfair competitive advantage over private companies that have to pay sales and property taxes.

Qwest asks the court to order UTOPIA (Utah Telecommunications Open Infrastructure Agency) to pay the taxes or include the amount of those taxes in the rates it will charge customers for Internet, telephone and television services.

UTOPIA currently is constructing its network in six of its member cities, West Valley, Murray, Midvale, Lindon, Orem and Payson.

Qwest Corp. filed the lawsuit Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Salt Lake City.

"UTOPIA is using our facilities without having signed a pole attachment agreement -- something we require of everyone that wants to use our poles," Qwest's Utah spokesman Vince Hancock said. "Also, their contractor is ignoring important safety standards that are in place to protect linemen."

The lawsuit asks the court to order UTOPIA to remove fiber optic lines that it already has laid on Qwest's telephone poles and to stop laying new lines until an agreement is signed.

UTOPIA executive director Roger Black said UTOPIA is in negotiations on an agreement to use Qwest's poles.

"We've tried to negotiate with them (UTOPIA) and there is an agreement out there," Hancock said. "The problem is they want to dictate changes to that agreement, which is exactly the same thing that we require all companies to sign that want to use our facilities. We find that completely unacceptable."

The lawsuit also names Riverton, a member city that has not approved bond financing for the project, as a defendant. It accuses Riverton of violating the 1996 Federal Telecommunications Act by requiring developers to provide an underground conduit for the city to provide UTOPIA access for laying fiber-optic lines.

"The practice of securing a free conduit is an abuse of the city's regulatory authority and their unique governmental position," Hancock said.

Riverton City Attorney David Church said Wednesday he had not seen the lawsuit and could not comment on its specifics. He wondered why Riverton would be singled out.

"I'm just surprised Riverton would be the one" named in the suit, he said. "I'm sure other member cities are doing the same thing."

Pledging member cities of UTOPIA are Brigham City, Centerville, Layton, Lindon, Midvale, Murray, Orem, Payson, Perry, Tremonton and West Valley City. Non-pledging members are Cedar City, Cedar Hills and Riverton.

(Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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