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Qwest looks to Asia for new business

Chief executive Joseph Nacchio says Pacific Rim countries are a top priority this year, as competition heats up in international telecommunications markets.

LAS VEGAS--Expanding into Asian markets is a top priority at Qwest Communications International this year, according to the company's top executive.

"We're going to look to the East…We want to start getting positions in each of the Pacific Rim countries," chief executive Joseph Nacchio told CNET News.com during an interview at a company sales meeting here.

The telecommunications firm that is still waiting for approval of its merger with local carrier US West has so far limited its expansion efforts to Europe and Canada. Yet it continues to compete against some of the industry's largest players and telecom upstarts here and abroad.

The growing demand for network bandwidth from businesses and consumers has spurred companies to push through multibillion-dollar network projects and has also inspired large telecommunications mergers this year.

Recent deals show the urgency by companies to establish an international presence. Fiber-optic builder Global Crossing is laying a series of undersea cables linking cities in Europe with cities in the United States. The firm now has a stronger presence domestically following its merger with Frontier Communications.

Separately, AT&T and British Telecommunications have joined forces to build a global network to connect their existing network layouts across the Atlantic.

Qwest, which has a European joint venture called KPNQwest, yesterday expanded its fiber-optic network in Europe to include several new cities in Southern France and Spain. The 1,800-mile, $305 million expansion will reach 46 European cities by 2001.

In December, Qwest entered into a fiber-optic swapping agreement giving the company access to the Canadian market for the first time.

"I feel good that we've pretty much got North America scoped out now," Nacchio said. "I think the next priority for me and for Qwest will be to start our footholds in Asia."

Executives expect Qwest to expand into Japan, Hong Kong and Singapore, but were not specific when asked about a proposed timeline. Nacchio, however, hinted that any future Asian expansion likely would involve joint ventures with local carriers--similar to its current alliance with Dutch communications company KPN.

Nacchio also said Latin America could be a region in which Qwest hopes to expand in the future. Yet he was also vague about when the company would make its move. "That's later," he said.