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Qwest rides VoIP train to new destinations

The local phone giant is ready to enter new territories with business-class voice and data services.

Qwest Communications International's Internet phone technology is set to help the company expand into more cities beyond its traditional 14-state operating area.

OneFlex, Qwest's voice and high-speed Net bundle, will be available "very soon" to businesses in Los Angeles, Chicago, Boston, New York and eight other major areas well outside the reach of the company's own telephone network, the local phone giant said Thursday.

"We plan to be in the out-of-region markets by the end of 2004," Qwest Chairman Richard Notebaert said during a conference call to discuss the carrier's third-quarter earnings results, which were released Thursday.

Traditional phone carriers are starting to see more local calls flow over the Internet rather than their own heavily regulated and taxed networks. In response, they have been adding their own voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP)-based services to lure business customers away from those companies that specialize in Net phone technology, such as Vonage Holdings.

Although Qwest was the first of the major phone companies to launch a Net phone service, it has since fallen behind rivals such as Verizon Communications and AT&T, whose own VoIP services are available nationwide. Verizon uses VoIP to sell unlimited local and long-distance phone service outside the reach of its own local telephone infrastructure.