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AT&T tells Verizon to pay up

The long-distance carrier is asking a Delaware state regulator to force Verizon to pay fees owed under existing agreements between the two companies.

AT&T is asking a Delaware state regulator to force Verizon Communications to pay fees owed under existing agreements between the two companies, AT&T announced Monday.

The long-distance carrier filed a petition with Public Service Commission of Delaware (PSC) saying that Verizon owes it more than $2 million in interconnection fees accumulated over three years.

Under terms of the Telecommunications Act of 1996, a phone company must pay a fee for using a competitor's network to complete a local call, a process called reciprocal compensation.

"The interconnection agreement signed by AT&T and Verizon requires each company to pay the other for completing its calls," said Mark Keffer, AT&T's chief regulatory counsel, in a statement. "Verizon has blatantly ignored this agreement."

Verizon spokesman Ells Edwards said the company has not yet seen the petition and could not comment on its substance, but did remark that the timing of the complaint was "interesting," since it comes soon after Verizon told the Delaware PSC on Feb. 1 that it intends to file for approval with the Federal Communications Commission to offer long-distance phone service in the state.

"This seems to be AT&T's modus operandi. Whenever a Verizon company files for long-distance, AT&T starts slinging mud and hopes that some of it will stick," Edwards said. "In other states where Verizon has filed for approval, like New York, Massachusetts, New Jersey and Pennsylvania, AT&T has tried to create a media circus in an attempt to either delay or defeat the proposal."

AT&T spokesman Jeff Roberts said that AT&T has opposed Verizon's efforts in those four states, but adds that the main point of contention was over competition issues in local phone markets.

"When it comes to opposing Verizon, it has always been the case of the local market not being open enough to competition because Verizon has been sitting on them," said Roberts.

The dispute is not the first battle over reciprocal compensation fees. California regulators directed Verizon to pay $4 million in fees to Pac-West Telecom last month.

Baby Bell operating companies have balked at the fees in the past and tried to persuade federal regulators and politicians to revamp the rules.

AT&T has locked horns with the Bells in the past as well. The company participated in a campaign to split the wholesale and retail operations of each Baby Bell company, arguing that they have an unfair advantage over competitors who want to use the Bells' networks.