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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- The Utah Public Service Commission has granted Qwest Communications flexibility in setting the prices it charges many of its business customers along the Wasatch Front.
However, the PSC decision on Tuesday capped prices for residential customers at their current levels -- for now.
"We felt that a cap on residential services needed to be in place to protect the public's interest," PSC Chairman Stephen Mecham said. "But as circumstances change and competition for residential service develops, we can go back and revisit that issue."
Qwest petitioned last year for permission to freely set prices assessed residential and business customers in 17 central office areas.
It contended rivals offered similar services in those areas, in which it serves several hundred thousand residents between Ogden and Spanish Fork.
The PSC determined that sufficient competition for business services exists in most of those areas to give Qwest the authority to freely raise or lower prices.
An exception was Tooele, where prices still will be capped for now.
Qwest's request was opposed by consumer advocates who said that in many of the residential areas, Qwest's only competition was that offered by AT&T Broadband over its cable television lines.
Telecommunications consultant William Dunkel, who testified for the Committee of Consumer Services at a hearing earlier this month, argued the presence of one competitor -- particularly a cable television company not known for holding the line on prices -- was insufficient to provide a check on Qwest's prices.
Consumer advocates were pleased with the PSC's determination that a price cap on residential rates was justified.
"It is the best outcome we could have hoped for," said Dan Gimble, the chief of technical staff for the committee.
The ruling pleased Qwest as well.
"We received the pricing flexibility for the business services that we were after and the PSC left the door open for us to get back to them on the price cap for residential services," said Robin Riggs, Qwest's Utah president.
In its fifth annual State of the Telecommunications Industry in Utah report in November, the PSC Qwest still served more than 92 percent of the market in its operating territory.
(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)