pledged Tuesday to keep talking with its rivals about the price of line sharing.

The big Atlanta-based local phone company conceded that a weekend of talks with long-distance peers such as




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yielded no agreements. In fact, BellSouth said it seemed that the chats may have led to "an even greater understanding" that the telcos' differences are "far more complex" than previously assumed.

The discussions cover the rates at which the big regional phone companies, such as BellSouth,


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, charge other telcos that want to sell local phone service to their own customers. The Federal Communications Commission has set rates for these rental transactions, but those rules were

struck down in March by an appeals court.

The appeals court ruling was seen as a victory for the Bells because it put an end to the steep discounts the companies were forced to accept from long-distance operators such as MCI and AT&T. Since then, the sides have continued to wrangle in the media and the courts.

Dealing from a position of strength, the Bells have indicated they are willing to talk. But with one exception -- a weekend deal on wholesale pricing and services between industry laggards MCI and



-- no progress has been apparent. In midafternoon action, shares in all the big phone companies slid Tuesday: BellSouth dropped 27 cents to $24.69, SBC fell 2 cents to $23.68, Verizon lost 12 cents to $34.46 and AT&T slipped 45 cents to $16.13.

"Good faith negotiations resulting in commercial agreements are the best remedy to this situation," BellSouth said Tuesday, adding that there will be no disruption of service if the FCC rules are vacated. "We will continue to talk with our wholesale customers who want to talk with us in hopes of reaching individually negotiated agreements."