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NM PRC moving to deregulate land line phone business

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CenturyLink employees at work downtown.

CenturyLink employees at work downtown.

The state Public Regulation Commission ruled Wednesday that most of New Mexico’s residential telephone market is competitive enough to ease regulations for CenturyLink.

The PRC voted 3-2 to declare the residential market for “packaged and bundled” telephone services competitive in 61 of the 65 areas that CenturyLink serves in New Mexico, reflecting steady growth of wireless and cable-telephone providers in those places.

The finding allows the commission to move to the next phase of the case to determine appropriate regulatory relief for CenturyLink, such as eliminating price controls and quality-of-service standards.

Any regulatory changes, however, only will affect packaged services – which encompass basic phone lines with added features such as caller ID and call waiting – as well as bundled contracts that contain non-telephone services like Internet.

Regulation will continue for basic, stand-alone telephone lines and for services provided to business customers, since the commission did not find those markets to be competitive.

CenturyLink, which acquired Qwest Communications International in 2011, is the state’s largest provider of traditional landline phone service.

But the local customer base under Qwest and now CenturyLink has fallen nearly 48 percent since 2001 as cellphone use has exploded and as cable-telephone and Internet-based services have spread.

CenturyLink petitioned the PRC in fall 2011 to declare that effective competition exists in all market segments throughout New Mexico to pave the way for regulatory relief.

In the end, however, the commission accepted PRC hearing examiner Carolyn Glick’s limited finding of competition just in packaged and bundled residential services.

On the other hand, the commission rejected Glick’s recommendation to declare those residential services competitive in all 65 CenturyLink service areas, leaving regulation intact in four rural zones.

It also rejected a recommendation to give CenturyLink another opportunity to present evidence of competition in more market segments, encouraging commissioners Pat Lyons and Valerie Espinoza to vote against the final order.

“I think CenturyLink has a lot of competition from wireless providers, and I don’t think they’ll get much regulatory relief with this order,” Lyons said. “I also think they should have gotten a second chance to prove their case.”

The case will now go back to the hearing examiner to consider regulatory reform, a process that could take up to six to eight months, Glick told the Journal.

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