US WEST Communications said Friday it will stop issuing contracts for paid telephone programs consisting of sexually explicit material.

The Denver-based telephone company serving 14 Western states, including Utah, said it will issue new contracts to all paid telephone programs using the "976" and "960" prefixes and programs will be reviewed. Those containing "explicit material" will be disconnected, the company said."This new restriction on our contract and program providers will improve the overall quality of information services available on 976," said Jeff Smith, vice president of US WEST, formerly Mountain Bell.

At the same time, parents and businesses may still control access to programs at no charge by asking the telephone company to block those services.

US WEST announced in January it would move all programs harmful to its reputation to a separate prefix, "960," and refuse to bill for them.

At the time, the company felt it was required to provide access regardless of content of the program.

But the U.S. Justice Department recently ruled that local Bell companies would not violate the law by denying "976" access to programs that are "unlawful and sexually explicit," said George Walker, chief executive officer for Pacific Northwest Bell in Washington State.

"Now we can exclude sexually explicit material from both `976' and `960,' " he said.

Walker said the "960" prefix will be offered to programs considered damaging to US WEST's reputation, such as those with higher-than-normal numbers of customer complaints. Each case will be considered on an individual basis, he said.

The "976" information delivery services allow several independent companies to provide information on topics such as stock reports, horoscopes, time and temperature, as well as entertainment and interactive talk services. There is a charge for each call, which appears on the monthly telephone bill.

Smith said, however, US WEST will not be able to keep some adult programs from the general network.

US WEST is the holding company for telephone companies in Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Iowa, Montana, Minnesota, Nebraska, New Mexico, North Dakota, South Dakota, Oregon, Utah, Washington and Wyoming.