Short interest on the New York Stock Exchange rose 42.1 million shares in the month ended Feb. 15 to a total of 249.4 million shares . . . MCI and GTE Sprint said they will each begin direct-dial telephone service to Australia on March 1. MCI also said it will add service to Cyprus, Egypt, Jordan, Kenya and Qatar on the same day . . . The American Iron and Steel Institute reported that steel production for the week ended Feb. 23 rose to 1.706 million tons, an increase of 1.9% from the previous week.