Qwest ( Q) agreed to pay the Federal Communications Commission $6.5 million to settle charges it sold long-distance service to customers before getting government approval to do so. The fine, the largest ever paid to the FCC, clears one regulatory headache from Qwest's plate. But the company continues to be the subject of other inquiries relating to its accounting and business practices under previous management. In its settlement with the FCC, Qwest admitted it violated conditions of a federal order that allowed the company to merge with U S West, a regional Bell company, in 2000. Investors will recall that only a few years ago Qwest was a fast-growing new-generation telco that aimed to remake the sluggish telecom business in its hard-hitting entrepreneurial image. The U S West deal catapulted the company to prominence, giving it title to a cash cow to help support its massive network-building plan. But in mid-2000, the tech-and-telecom craze withered, slashing Qwest's sales and relegating the once-heralded company to penny-stock status. Qwest shares fell 22 cents Wednesday to $4.21.