UTOPIA demands Qwest suit dismissal

Published July 23, 2005 12:01 am
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Utah's fledgling fiber-optic consortium demanded dismissal of a Qwest Communications lawsuit Friday that could cripple its plans for a multi-city fiber-optic network.

The Utah Telecommunications Open Infrastructure Agency (UTOPIA) said Qwest's June 1 lawsuit had exaggerated incidents in which it had attached lines to Denver-based utility's telephone poles without permission.

In their answer to the lawsuit, UTOPIA said only three poles out of 3,900 being used for the network had been confirmed to be Qwest property, and its crews had acted quickly to remove offending attachments.

UTOPIA attorneys asked U.S. District Judge Paul Cassell to dismiss Qwest's suit as without merit, being "brought or asserted in bad faith."

Qwest spokesman Vince Hancock predicted the case would continue to trial, claiming his company has identified illegal UTOPIA connections to at least 91 of its clearly marked poles in Murray alone.

Qwest wants Cassell to block UTOPIA from adding any more lines to its poles without signing a standard pole attachment agreement. Qwest, which says it owns more than 60,000 poles in Utah, also wants existing UTOPIA connections found improper to be removed.

Qwest's suit also charged that UTOPIA's contractors were ignoring safety standards meant to protect linemen; and that UTOPIA crews were responsible for a May 24 phone service disruption in Murray causing at least $400,000 in damages.

In its response, filed late Thursday after court offices had closed, UTOPIA admits to a "single cable cut," but blames the outage on Qwest's "failure to adequately mark and locate its facilities . . . "

UTOPIA's attorneys denied the safety allegations, adding that its subcontractors "are in many or most cases the same as those utilized by [Qwest]."

Still, it is the pole issue that remains the heart of Qwest's suit. Roger Black, UTOPIA's chief operating officer, said ownership often is difficult to determine, since several entities - local municipalities, PacifiCorp and Qwest - may all claim the same poles.

"We're still eager to sit down and work this out. Our network will need positions on some of [Qwest's] poles," Black said.

However, Hancock said Qwest has already tried unsuccessfully to negotiate with Utopia, leaving litigation as "the last remaining course of action available to us."

UTOPIA was organized in 2002 by 18 Utah municipalities seeking to provide every home and business access to a high-speed telecommunications connection.

Of the original 18 cities, 11 remain committed to building the network and have pledged city tax revenue to help support the $340 million in construction bonds.


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