A consortium of Utah's Internet providers is accusing US WEST of engaging in unfair business practices and has asked the Public Service Commission to investigate.
On May 4, US WEST announced "MegaBit Service" phone-line connections that give customers full-time access to Internet service providers at data transfer speeds at least 10 times faster than are available using conventional phone service and a 28,800-baud modem. The service utilizes existing copper phone wiring with technology that allows a single line to simultaneously handle Internet traffic and telephone calls.US WEST is also offering to install the service for $110, waiving $380 in additional one-time setup expenses to the first 1,000 people to order the network service. To use the service, the customer's Internet provider also has to be a Mega-Bit Service customer.
But perhaps the only Internet provider connected when US WEST launched the service last week was US WEST's own service, US WEST Interactive Services, or USWEST.net. That led to protests from independent Internet providers.
US WEST's marketing practices "are manifestly unfair and very likely unlawful," the 27-member Coalition of Utah Independent Internet Service Providers alleged to the Public Service Commission in an informal complaint filed Wednesday.
US WEST MegaBit Executive Director Greg Gum said people who call US WEST's customer service operators inquiring about Mega-Bit service can ask whether they will be able to use the service to connect with their Internet provider. The operator will tell them whether the Internet provider they ask about is connected or has a connection pending.
But if a person calls wanting to buy MegaBit service and does not have an Internet service provider, the only Internet service the operators will tell them about is USWEST.net. As for the independents, callers have to contact them directly and ask them whether they are MegaBit customers. "Operators cannot tell which ones are installed or pending," Gum said.
US WEST would not tell the Deseret News which of the five independent Internet providers it has MegaBit agreements with have had their service connected. US WEST has not reached the 1,000-customer mark for MegaBit Service either, Gum said.
The coalition's complaint also accuses US WEST of being slow getting them connected, and says a $75 fee US WEST charges MegaBit customers to switch Internet providers amounts to "a significant negative incentive to change providers" that doesn't have a reasonable relationship to US WEST's costs to make the change.
"It's not in anyone's best interest not to get them up and running," Gum said. US WEST spokesman Duane Cooke said the fee for changing Internet providers once they buy MegaBit service is $45, not $75.