Mark Battles of Cable Vision INC. uses a ditchwitch to drop fiber-optic lines from the back of a building off Mitchell Street. (Staff photo: Sharna Johnson)
By David Irvin: CNJ staff writer
Plateau Telecommunications plans to lay fiber-optic lines through many of Clovis’ business corridors in hopes of challenging its chief competition, Qwest.
The approximate $5 million construction project began earlier this month and will provide Internet and phone services over the hair-thin glass lines, officials said. The project is expected to be finished by mid-November.
Plateau intends to compete head-to-head with Qwest by offering voice and data services on its new fiber-optic network, something currently available through Qwest and Cox Communications’ business services.
Burying the fiber-optic lines is expensive, Plateau officials said, but the largest investment is in the high-quality glass that makes up the lines. Research engineer Jason Gonzales described the bandwidth capabilities of fiber optics as “limitless,” only hampered by the technology available in the electronic components sending data down the lines.
Business owners along Prince Street, parts of Main Street, Commerce Way, Mabry Drive and others will be able to purchase the service later this year.
Mike Wheeler, owner of TechBoys, a Prince Street computer service company, said he uses a system called Meganet 5.8, a wireless service from Plateau. The potential speed of the fiber-optics network has him excited, he said.
“With me, the speed has a lot to do with the nature of our business, getting products in and out,” he said. “Dealing with slow Internet connection speeds, it slows us down.”
Plateau officials estimate their market is 800 businesses. Based on a door-to-door survey conducted by the company, they say about 86 percent of the targeted customers are interested in switching to the new fiber-optics Internet or voice services. If that level of market penetration is realized, Plateau officials believe gross annual revenues will exceed $2.3 million, and they will recoup their outlay in six to seven years.
Currently, Qwest can offer customers in Clovis a phone line and Internet services on the same bill, said Qwest company spokesman Vince Hancock. Hancock said the market advantage gained by installing new technology is temporary, but providing good service and the right products helps keep customers in the long run.
“Service doesn’t only mean a friendly voice on the phone,” he said, “but it has to be an excellent customer experience from the initial sales call, to implementation, to billing, to customer support.”
Another Internet provider, Cox Communications, offers bundled Internet, cable and business voice services, according to its Web site.
“We have experience throughout Cox service areas — throughout the nation — in competing very well with all types of competitors,” said company spokesman Morris Wilkes.
According to an Internet resource on technology, Cnet.com, cable Internet service has slightly faster high-end speeds than DSL — at about two megabits per second. Gonzales said the standard plans on Plateau’s fiber-optic network will be able to deliver speeds between 10 and 20 megabits per second.
Still, some potential customers will be shopping on price alone, such as clothing store Tankersley’s on Main Street. The store doesn’t need blistering Internet speeds, but the company’s vice president said he might respond to a price incentive.
“Anything that saves us money (is attractive) so we can pass on the savings to our customer,” Paul Tankersley said. “Those are always the primary considerations.”
Plateau isn’t relying entirely on its close community connections to make this project succeed. It hopes to price services as much as 10 percent less than the competition on a standard phone line.
“We are not banking on our name,” said Tom Phelps, chief executive officer for ENMR-Plateau. “We are going head-to-head with Qwest, and provid(ing) pricing that encourages their customers to move to us.”
According to Qwest, the telecommunications giant has a strong presence in New Mexico with 1,100 employees.
Phelps said Qwest is a strong company and worthy competitor that owns much of the business in the targeted corridors. But the project, which covers some 35 miles of business corridors in the city, is definitely aimed at replacing the entrenched telephone business, officials said.
Qwest sells its DSL-based small business Internet service between $25 and $60 per account, according to the company Web site.
• Fiber is a strand of glass thinner than a human hair used in the transport of telecommunications and data services
• The original concept of fiber optics was invented by Alexander Graham Bell in 1880 called the “photophone”
• First practical use of fiber optics as we know it today was in 1970
• Fiber Optic carries information in the form of light pulses instead of electricity like copper
• Two strands of fiber can carry the equivalent of 625,000 simultaneous phone calls
Source: Plateau Telecommunications