Phone Giants Agree To Set Standards For Faster Internet Deployment - InformationWeek

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Phone Giants Agree To Set Standards For Faster Internet Deployment

Verizon, SBC, and BellSouth agreed to standardize construction of residential fiber-optic networks in hopes of getting high-speed connections to homes faster

NEW YORK (AP) -- The nation's three biggest regional phone companies announced an agreement Thursday to standardize the construction of residential fiber-optic networks, in hopes of getting ultra-fast Internet connections to homes more quickly and less expensively.

In a letter to telecom equipment makers, Verizon Communications Inc., SBC Communications Inc. and BellSouth Corp. said they had agreed on technical details that affect how everything from centralized switching centers to customers' home modems will be connected.

The companies' goal is to bring far more homes and small businesses a "fat pipe" that can pump voice calls, data, TV broadcasts and bandwidth-intensive applications like videoconferencing at speeds far faster than existing DSL and cable-modem services.

"This is something you see in all technology industries," said Michael Coe, a spokesman for San Antonio-based SBC. "When they get serious about deploying a system, they say, 'We need to have one standard.'"

Fiber-optic lines transmit information in bursts of light, far faster than the electronic signals that course through traditional copper wiring in phone networks.

While many big office complexes are well-fed with fiber-optic lines, phone companies have said they were reluctant to spend the billions required to bring fiber to individual homes because of federal regulations that force them to lease their networks to competitors at regulated prices.

Only 37,000 U.S. homes are directly fed by fiber lines, up from 10,000 a year earlier, according to Render Vanderslice & Associates, a market research firm.

But in February, the Federal Communications Commission agreed to lift the sharing requirement on new broadband networks. That prompted Bell critics to say it was time for the phone companies to put their money where they mouths have been, and actually begin investing in new fiber.

"We're certainly excited by the potential of this announcement," said Dick Muldoon, a spokesman for Lucent Technologies Inc., a struggling maker of telecom equipment.

Widespread fiber deployment would better arm the regional Bells in their fight against cable companies, which already dominate the home broadband business and are increasingly offering phone service as well.

Yankee Group broadband analyst Matt Davis said the standardization agreement should ease the design and lower the cost of fiber-related equipment, helping reduce the Bells' fears that new fiber connections can be profitable.

"This is definitely a move in the right direction for them," he said. "I didn't expect this so soon."

The three companies plan to soon seek bids based on the new standards from optical equipment vendors. Mark Marchand, a spokesman for New York-based Verizon, said his company could begin deploying fiber to homes in the first quarter of 2004, first in freshly constructed housing developments and later in denser areas already laced with copper wiring.

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