Qwest to keep long-distance business

Qwest Communications International Inc. on Monday said it is calling off the auction for its nationwide long-haul data and telephone network.

The Denver-based phone company said the network was more valuable to the company than the amount it would raise in a sale.

Qwest did not say how much the bids it received were worth. News reports last week indicated Qwest received bids far below the $2 billion to $3 billion it wanted.

Qwest has a debt load of $13.3 billion, and the sale of the network at the right price could have given it some breathing room. However, the network is also useful in supporting its two other main businesses: local phone service in 14 states, including Montana, and nationwide services for government and corporations.

Level 3 Communications Inc., which also operates a long-haul network, was mentioned as a potential buyer.

The wholesale business has seen declining revenues for some time, as competition is pushing down prices.

Qwest shares fell 12 cents, or 2.9%, to $4.05 in morning trading Monday.