The Federal Communications Commission has imposed its highest fine ever. Regulators have fined SBC Communications Inc. $6 million for not meeting requirements to open up its network to competitors.

In January, the commission issued a Notice of Apparent Liability saying it appeared that SBC has "willfully and repeatedly" violated conditions calling for the company to offer the same network-access terms to companies in Ameritech's former service territory as it offered to competitors in Texas.

SBC acquired Ameritech in 1999. At the time of the merger, Ameritech was not providing competitors with any shared transport over its network, but SBC agreed to provide shared access to competitors for the purpose of providing local transport in the Ameritech region. SBC was already providing it in Texas for local traffic.

SBC has several months to dispute the claim, but the FCC remains unsatisfied with SBC arguments.

SBC, however, disagrees with the FCC's decision to fine the company. "We believe that the commission has mistakenly interpreted…the intent of the shared transport merger condition," said James C. Smith, SBC senior vice president, in a prepared statement. "Our belief is that SBC's shared transport offering clearly meets the company's obligation under the SBC/Ameritech merger conditions to provide competitors with shared access to our networks in the Ameritech region and elsewhere."

SBC said it is reviewing the FCC's actions and is considering its options.

The FCC has imposed several fines on SBC related to the Ameritech merger over the past three years. Prior to the latest $6 million fine, the commission had imposed nearly $66 million in fines on SBC.