NEW YORK, March 2 -- Verizon Communications Inc. yesterday freed MCI Inc., which it has agreed to purchase, to discuss a higher bid from Qwest Communications International Inc.
MCI said it would take two weeks for talks and a full evaluation of the revised $8 billion bid submitted last week by Qwest, the local phone company for most of the Rocky Mountains and Pacific Northwest. That offer is $1.25 billion higher than the price offered by Verizon, which dominates the Northeast and mid-Atlantic.
Qwest yesterday questioned MCI's sincerity in agreeing to evaluate the new bid.
"We question whether our [first] proposal truly received an extensive review," Qwest chief executive Richard C. Notebaert wrote in a letter to MCI Chairman Nicholas deB. Katzenbach, noting that MCI had given Qwest access to only 4,000 key documents just two days before the Verizon deal was announced. "We are also concerned that the process over the next two weeks will simply be process for process sake, as opposed to a meaningful evaluation of our offer."
On Wednesday, Denver-based Qwest said it would cut as many as 15,000 MCI jobs -- twice as many as planned by Verizon.
Verizon declined to say whether it might increase its offer should MCI decide the Qwest deal is compelling.
Verizon has argued that a Qwest-MCI merger would hurt the public interest by combining two operators of national data and voice networks. Because Verizon doesn't have a national network, its purchase of MCI would strengthen a competitor in that market rather than eliminate one, the company has said.