Qwest, other phone companies really unplug SkyWi; fewer than 200 affected

After months of high drama involving stacks of past due bills, a flurry of New Mexico Public Regulation Commission (PRC) meetings, a lawsuit, and lots of over-the-top statements via press releases, yesterday Qwest and four other phone companies finally disconnected unpaid leased lines and dial tone services used by SkyWi and its subsidiaries. According to a local news report, around 153 Internet subscribers may have been affected by Qwest's shut down - a far cry from the purported 10,000 SkyWi customers affected at the end of December 2008 when Qwest first pulled the plug.

New Mexico state regulators expect to have a better idea today as to how many people were impacted by yesterday's cutoff. The PRC is meeting this morning to assess and address any major problems that might have occurred, but it appears most of the consumers, businesses and government agencies using SkyWi left the building long before today's curtain call.  Throughout February, SkyWi customers were repeatedly warned by the PRC that they may encounter service disruptions and that they needed to find other alternatives.

SkyWi says it is still providing dial-up and DSL services in New Mexico through wholesale providers other than Qwest.

However, while the uncertainty for SkyWi customers is finally over, the mess to clean up SkyWi's past due bills and its lawsuit against Qwest goes on. SkyWi filed suit against Qwest in early December, alleging the company engaged in anti-competitive activities. Filed in The U.S. Federal Court for the District of New Mexico, the suit - involving contracts SkyWi and its subsidiaries had signed with Qwest - was moved to Colorado where it awaits further movement.

At last count, SkyWi owed Qwest up to $2 million in past due bills stemming from non-payment by it and/or its subsidiaries dating back to July 2008. Windstream Communications, Penasco Valley Telephone Cooperative, ENMR Telephone Cooperative and Tularosa Basin Telephone Company also turned off services yesterday, and Windstream only says it is owed a "substantial" unpaid amount.  

In addition, SkyWi owes $260,000 in past due rent and space improvements for its Las Cruces office space, and the landlords have won an eviction notice from a New Mexico court because the company broke its lease for non-payment of rent. If that's not enough, there's also a bill for $42,000 in equipment leasing fees that hasn't been paid since July 2008. The owners of the equipment are seeking repossession of the gear in the New Mexico courts currently.

For more:
- Las Cruces Sun provides the story.

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