Judge agrees with GCI on local phone competition

Posted: Sunday, December 02, 2001

FAIRBANKS (AP) -- A Superior Court judge has upheld a regulatory panel's order allowing GCI to offer local phone service in Juneau and Fairbanks.

Monday's ruling is another step in the long battle between Alaska two big communications companies, Alaska Communications Systems and General Communications Inc.

ACS officials haven't decided whether to take the case to the Alaska Supreme Court, spokesman Tom Jensen said last week.

GCI has been offering local service in Fairbanks and Juneau since this past summer, when the Regulatory Commission of Alaska ordered ACS to let GCI lease equipment and enter the two markets, said GCI spokesman David Morris.

Under the Telecommunications Act of 1996, Judge John Reese said in his ruling, the local phone company in a community can keep competitors out if the community is considered rural. The idea was that those communities could not financially support more than one telephone company.

In 1997, GCI had applied to lease ACS infrastructure in Fairbanks and Juneau, arguing that the communities were not rural.

ACS disagreed. The Alaska Public Utilities Commission, forerunner of the current commission, ruled in 1998 that Fairbanks and Juneau were rural, saying GCI failed to meet the burden of proof.

GCI appealed that decision to Superior Court, which then ordered the commission to re-examine its ruling, this time placing the burden of proof on ACS.

The commission ruled in 1999 that Fairbanks and Juneau were not rural. Shortly after that, the Legislature replaced the commission with the RCA, which made the same ruling later that year.

ACS appealed to the Superior Court, resulting in Reese's decision.

In the wake of that ruling, GCI said this week it's now planning to go after the local phone market in the smaller Interior communities of North Pole, Nenana, Delta Junction and Fort Greely. The company is also seeking to provide local service in Kenai, Soldotna, Ninilchik, Homer, Seldovia and Kodiak. ACS now serves those communities.

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