I remember the days when broadband backbone collectors like Qwest Communications (NYSE:Q) and Global Crossing (NASDAQ:GLBCE) were poised to make a huge splash in the communications market.

What could have been major water displacement from a powerhouse cannonball has turned into a little wave from a kid with floaties jumping in at the steps of the pool. Qwest's acquisition of floundering Baby Bell US West in the late 1990s signaled an about-face for a company on the rise.

One look at Qwest's first-quarter results reveal how far the company has slid into the local market abyss. The company reported a loss of $0.17 per share, versus earnings per share of $0.09 a year ago, with the loss being about $0.04 below analysts' expectations. Somehow the company still believes it will see revenue growth in 2004, despite a 3.9% revenue drop in the first quarter.

Qwest has spun a messy story about a promising company that flushed just about every ounce of potential down the facility. Current management has spent most of its time trying to clean up the previous team's mess. In fact, the company is still under investigation by the SEC on a few outstanding accounting issues and former executives are on trial for the indiscretions.

Sure, Qwest has seen some growth in long-distance and Internet operations, but so have its main competitors SBC Communications (NYSE:SBC), BellSouth (NYSE:BLS), and Verizon (NYSE:VZ). The primary component that Qwest lacks is a significant wireless presence. Without this key piece of the communications bundling puzzle, Qwest is left to fend for its scraps of market share as an underpowered competitor.

The best that Qwest can hope in the future is to become an acquisition target for a larger, better-positioned telecom company. Potential suitors might include AT&T (NYSE:T), SBC, or Verizon. It is also possible that the company could be split off and auctioned more effectively in pieces. In that scenario, Qwest could make a decent splash after all.

Make your own splash in the Qwest Communications discussion board.

Fool contributor Phil Wohl spent more than 12 years on Wall Street and now concentrates his writing on more fictional characters. He has no stake in any firm mentioned above.