NEW YORK -- A potential bidding war for MCI Inc. took shape yesterday as merger partner Verizon Communications Inc. freed the long-distance telephone company to discuss a higher-priced bid submitted last week by Qwest Communications Inc.
The plot twist came the same day as congressional hearings in which the chief executives involved in a recent spate of big telecom mergers testified about how those deals might affect customers and competition.
MCI set a two-week time frame for the 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 about $1.2 billion richer than the price agreed to Feb. 14 by Verizon, which dominates the Northeast and Middle Atlantic states.
Qwest welcomed the decision, which came a day after the Denver-based company impressed MCI investors with plans to generate more cost savings by cutting up to 15,000 jobs.
Verizon declined to say whether it might boost its offer should MCI decide the Qwest deal is now compelling. ''We believe that this process will result in MCI reaching the same conclusion that it reached after seven months of discussions with Qwest," the company said in a statement.
Qwest signaled Tuesday that it would consider boosting its offer further, but only if MCI agreed to meet first.