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The bells are gently ringing

Arapahoe County-based AT&T Broadband believes in making holiday wishes come true; it says so right in the glossy advertisement that was inserted in hundreds of thousands of Denver newspapers on Sunday. "With monthly rates starting at $35.95, AT&T Broadband Internet service makes it easy and affordable to shop for everyone on your holiday list, send electronic holiday greetings to family and friends, download movies and more," the two-sided ad reads. "All at lightning-fast speeds."

Thanks, but we'd rather Santa gave us a lump of coal.

On the morning that the ad appeared in the Denver Post, AT&T's nearly one million broadband Internet subscribers had already been without service, including e-mail, for more than 24 hours; a few had been informed by phone calls -- recorded ones -- from the company that they might possibly, maybe, if they were lucky, get that service back sometime in the next "few" weeks. But the situation was one that made it a little difficult to buy gifts online, send electronic holiday greetings or download anything -- at lightning-fast speeds or not.

The reason for the outage was that AT&T's broadband partner, Excite@Home, on Friday was permitted by a judge to void all of its existing contracts as the company tries to deal with its October bankruptcy claim. Since AT&T refused to work without a contract, service was cut off. AT&T then announced that its customers in Denver, Chicago, Dallas, Seattle and a number of other cities would be switched to a new AT&T-run network sometime in the following week to ten days -- scant solace for any of the individuals or businesses who rely on the Internet.

"The timing of the ad and [the outage] were in conflict with one another, because that ad had been placed long before Excite@Home shut down on Friday," says apologetic local AT&T spokeswoman Jeannine Hansen. "There was nothing we could do about that. We are hearing now from customers who want the service once we get it moved over to our own network."

By now, 500,000 of AT&T's 850,000 residential customers nationwide should have been moved to the new system, Hansen says, and customers in Denver were expected to be back up by Wednesday morning (although all of their existing e-mails will have disappeared, along with their e-mail addresses). But customers in Fort Collins, Greeley, Vail, Avon and Grand Junction will be out of luck for several weeks. Hansen wouldn't say how many of Colorado's 71,000 AT&T Broadband users are in Denver.

This embarrassing situation creates a field day for one of Colorado's other favorite corporate fat cats, all-powerful local-phone-service provider Qwest, which has been lambasting AT&T for raising its cable-TV rates by way of a thinly veiled "nonprofit" organization called the Colorado Coalition for Real Competition. In recent newspaper ads, the "Coalition" asked, "Are AT&T's cable rates making you a little desperate?" But if you log on to the "Coalition" Web site, you notice that it's suspiciously pro-Qwest, right down to all the articles posted about Qwest's complaint that AT&T has been trying to keep Qwest out of the long-distance phone-service market. (Not posted: articles published elsewhere in which Qwest officials acknowledge that they hired a public-relations company to found and fund the "Coalition" and similar nonprofits in other states, groups that share the mission of getting Qwest into the long-distance market.)

Qwest is now using the Excite@Home boondoggle as an opportunity to offer infuriated AT&T Broadband customers a special deal on its own high-speed DSL Internet service; newspaper ads running this week ask, "Afraid your cable modem provider is gonna pull the plug?"

Putting in her own plug, AT&T's Hansen points out that it takes up to two weeks to get Qwest's DSL service installed -- and by then, AT&T, at least in Denver, should be up and running.

Ah, competition. There's nothing like two enormous, obnoxious, monopolistic corporations fighting for the opportunity to see who can screw us the hardest for our money.


Bugle boys and girls: Fans of the NBC program The West Wing got a taste last week of how important Colorado is to the savvy, smart-talking characters on the show (and, ostensibly, how important the show's producers think our state is to Washington, D.C.'s inside-the-Beltway elite) when White House press secretary C.J. Cregg got a question from a reporter about an article that had supposedly appeared in something called the Rocky Mountain Bugler.

C.J. hadn't heard of the lawsuit (a frivolous one in which, according to the show's plot line, someone had sued the president over a comment he'd made at a fundraiser concerning whether or not air bags are safe). Nor could she recall the correct name of Denver's tabloid newspaper. After several attempts by other members of the White House Press Corps -- besides Bugler, both Bugle and Herald were suggested -- someone on the president's staff finally got it right.

Despite this embarrassing dis, the real paper, the Rocky Mountain News, chose to publish an article the next day about how West Wing producer John Wells is from Denver. The story, which didn't have a byline, carried the headline: "Producer's hometown paper is unlikely star of 'West Wing'." Never mind the fact that the article didn't say whether Wells had anything to do with the Bugler crack, or that the paper was hardly the "star" of that episode.

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