Time Warner Telecom says it only wanted to wire customers in a Houston office building and obtain it for the same fees as the incumbent provider was paying. But a complaint it filed launched a lawsuit questioning the constitutionality of Texas' access laws and rules.

Under a 1995 Texas law that opened Texas' local phone markets to competition, tenants could choose their own provider for phone service and the provider would get access under a set of rules set up by the Public Utility Commission of Texas.

The PUC rules set up the structure for compliance, but terms were left to telecom providers to negotiate with building owners, says Kristie Flippo, TWT VP of Regulatory Affairs in its Southwest Region.

TWT wanted to offer services to tenants in the Geoquest Center in Houston, and wanted to do so for the same price as the incumbent provider, which was zero, Flippo says. When that was rejected, it filed a complaint regarding the fees, requested that it be able to provide services to the tenant while the issue was under dispute, and called for enforcement by the PUC.

Other providers negotiated different deals, paying $50 to $1,000 for the same lease. "Some have entered bankruptcy," she says. "Some are willing to pay more than others. A lot rush in and pay — it doesn't mean everyone has to do it."

The Texas Building Owners and Managers Association and BOMA International filed a lawsuit against the Texas Public Utility Commission, challenging the constitutionality of the law. BOMA argued the law allowed the taking of private property without compensation, under due process. Building owners would lose control over who can install and string equipment and lines in their buildings, it noted. The organization made similar objections in September 2000, when the PUC set up the rules.

In the lawsuit, filed in the 353rd District Court of Travis County, Texas, the trade association for building owners also said the PUC couldn't determine constitutionality, and it would need to be decided by a court. PUC already had noted the legislature's decision, by nature, contradicts constitutional objections.

Flippo says TWT is willing to pay compensation, but will pay what the incumbent (in this case, the local Bell) does. The proper BOMA spokesperson could not immediately be reached by CEDaily's deadline.

PUC spokesman Terry Hadley said he hadn't seen the lawsuit and would not comment, noting that the PUC usually referred such issues to the Attorney General's office.