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Networking

Qwest flexes OneFlex in new arenas

The nation's number four local phone provider expands its OneFlex Net phone service into four more markets.

Qwest has expanded its OneFlex phone service into four metropolitan areas, executives said Tuesday, ratcheting up competition even more in the market for selling cheap Internet phone calls.

The service is advertised as available in Denver, Minneapolis, Phoenix and Boise, Idaho. Price were not disclosed on the Qwest Web site, and a spokesman did not return a call seeking comment. The expansion was expected.

Traditional phone carriers have been adding voice over Internet Protocol-based services to lure business customers away from companies that specialize in Internet phone service, such as Vonage Holdings. Such providers' offerings tend to be inexpensive. VoIP is less expensive because it sends call over the Internet rather than the traditional phone network, which is heavily regulated and taxed. Drawbacks of VoIP include the lack of battery backup to phones, problems with the routing of 911 calls and spotty voice quality.

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.

Qwest Chief Executive Richard C. Notebaert told financial analysts on Tuesday that Qwest is now on track to expand the VoIP-based service to all its major local phone service markets by year's end.

"VoIP is starting to germinate," he said after the phone company reported second-quarter earnings that contained a wider quarterly loss as revenue shrank due to lower sales of local service, plus legal costs.