The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission has upheld a $26 million fine against Qwest. It also ordered the company to provide discounts to competitors for making illegal secret agreements with local phone companies.

Also, some of the PUC commissioners said they might refuse to support Qwest's bid to offer long-distance services in Minnesota if the company challenges the penalties in court.

The decision came at a hearing which was Qwest's first opportunity to appeal the punishment, originally announced in February. Company officials said they were disappointed with the ruling, but have not decided whether to file a court appeal.

The PUC found last year that Qwest had illegal secret agreements with two local phone competitors that helped those rivals while hurting others.

Qwest had proposed a compromise under which it would accept some of the discounts and agree not to appeal a fine of $5 million. But PUC commissioners said the Qwest compromise did not go far enough.

The commission must decide by April 17 whether to make a nonbinding recommendation to the Federal Communications Commission on Qwest's long-distance bid.