COLUMBUS, Ohio, and BUTTE, Mont., Feb. 7, 2000 -- The telecommunications subsidiaries of two energy companies have formed American Fiber Touch LLC, to connect national and regional fiber-optic networks.

American Fiber Touch is a 50-50 joint venture between AEP Communications LLC, a subsidiary of American Electric Power (NYSE:AEP), and Touch America, the telecommunications subsidiary of The Montana Power Co. (NYSE:MTP).

Both Touch America and AEP Communications will fund the venture with a combination of cash, assets and in-kind services valued at $25 million. The first project for American Fiber Touch is the construction of a 330-mile-long fiber route between St. Louis and Plano, Ill., near Chicago, which passes through Springfield and Peoria. Construction is underway and should be completed in December.

Future routes may be deployed to provide bandwidth for customers in need of route diversity and access to markets in the Midwest.
American Fiber Touch will have administrative offices in Butte, Mont., and will initially receive support and services from Touch America and AEP Communications.

"This first route is a strategic step that will provide a physical interconnection between AEP´s fiber east of Chicago and Touch America´s vast fiber network," explained Pete Thomas, vice president of AEP Communications.

"Touch America and AEP Communications have been aggressively marketing fiber capacity. This interconnection and the creation of American Fiber Touch will complement the assets of both companies," Thomas said.

According to Mike Meldahl, president of Touch America, the economics on this route are consistent with the company´s low cost provider position for its national fiber-optic network that will reach upwards of 26,000 miles by yearend 2001.

"While this route is just a part of Touch America´s previously announced $500 million build, today´s announcement begins to develop a strategy for connecting communities in the country´s heartland," he said. "We like joining with strong regional players who have a significant marketing presence and who can take advantage of the companies´ combined strengths. American Fiber Touch will accomplish this goal."

Touch America is a wholly owned telecommunications subsidiary of The Montana Power Co., providing long-distance services, private line services, Internet and business telephone equipment since 1983. The company´s fiber-optic network employs the most advanced telecommunications technology available today. Touch America offers a full line of long-distance services, as well as dedicated voice, data, video services and frame relay solutions. Touch America´s equipment services include design, installation and maintenance of PBX and key systems. The company also offers construction management oversight of the installation of fiber optic systems. Touch America and The Montana Power Co. are based in Butte, Mont. Information about Touch America can be found at http://www.mtpower.com. or http://www.in-tch.com

AEP Communications LLC was formed in 1997 to provide fiber, wireless and information services to wholesale and retail customers. The company has accelerated the deployment of bandwidth infrastructure with more than 2,000 miles of high-speed fiber optic lines, wireless antenna structures, PCS equity investments and IP-based energy information services. Information about AEP Communications can be found at http://www.aep.com/aepc.

AEP, a global energy company, is one of the United States´ largest investor-owned utilities, providing energy to 3 million customers in Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia. AEP has holdings in the United States, the United Kingdom, China and Australia. Wholly owned subsidiaries provide power engineering, energy consulting and energy management services around the world. The company is based in Columbus, Ohio. On Dec. 22, 1997, AEP announced a definitive merger agreement for a tax-free, stock-for-stock transaction with Central and South West Corp., a public utility holding company based in Dallas.

For More Information, Contact:
Pat D. Hemlepp
American Electric Power

Cort Freeman
Montana Power

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