GCI wins battle to offer local service in 2 cities

JUNEAU -- In another reversal in a see-saw telecommunications battle that has lasted nearly four years, a Superior Court judge has refused to stay an interconnection order calling for local phone competition in Juneau and Fairbanks.

telecommunications.jpg Agreeing with General Communication Inc. that a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision doesn’t overrule the order from the Regulatory Commission of Alaska, Anchorage Judge John Reese rejected a plea by Alaska Communications Systems to halt work immediately on the interconnection.

"Competition goes forward," GCI senior vice president Dana Tindall said after receiving the judge’s two-sentence ruling Feb. 9.

"This was just a request for an expedited proceeding," said ACS President Wes Carson, playing down the long-term significance of the ruling.

The court still must hear arguments about whether ACS’ "rural exemption" under the pro-competition U.S. Telecommunications Act of 1996, terminated by the RCA last year, can be reinstated. That would force GCI to start the state regulatory process all over again.

ACS, which does business in Juneau as PTI Communications, moved for the stay after the U.S. Supreme Court decided on Jan. 22 not to review a federal appeals court ruling in an Iowa case. The 8th Circuit Court of Appeals last July threw out federal regulations placing the burden of proof on the incumbent local service provider to show that competition would imperil universal, affordable access.

Because the Supreme Court declined to review the 8th Circuit ruling, ACS contends that the issue is settled and the burden is now on GCI to show that it wouldn’t cause rate hikes for some "high-cost" consumers who are being subsidized. But Reese, stepping in for District Court Judge Sigurd Murphy, who had been handling the case, said the 8th Circuit decision did not compel the stay and was not "persuasive."

GCI had insisted that the Alaska Supreme Court has held that the Alaska courts are not bound by the interpretations of federal law by the federal circuit courts.

Tindall of GCI said the remaining legal issues could take six months to a year to sort out. In the meantime, GCI intends to be offering local telephone service in Juneau and Fairbanks, she said, first by buying and reselling ACS services and later by leasing "unbundled network elements" from the incumbent to offer new packages to consumers.

02/17/2001 - 8:00pm