Forget pork, local politician lobbies for fiber

Mayor Graham Richard of Fort Wayne, Ind., saw the benefit to his city of Verizon's plans for an initial rollout of fiber-to-the-home in 50 cities across the country.

When Mayor Graham Richard got wind of Verizon's plans for an initial rollout of fiber-to-the-home in 50 cities across the country, he immediately recognized the potential economic benefit and became determined that Fort Wayne, Ind., make the list.

Like a good politician, he launched a yearlong campaign to woo Verizon CEO Ivan Seidenberg, sending him Knicks tickets and a book, and arranging a luncheon and dinner in Seidenberg's honor.

"Communities sometimes take utilities for granted, but I don't take any business for granted," Richard says. "I treated this as if we were wooing a new company to town."

The red-carpet treatment apparently worked. Verizon is investing $65 million to bring 7.1 million feet of fiber-optic cable to 110,000 homes in greater Fort Wayne. The FiOS Internet service - which offers speeds of 5Mbps, 15Mbps and 30Mbps downstream - officially rolled out last Dec. 1. Nationwide, Verizon has expanded its FiOS plans to include 250 cities in 16 states, and the company expected to pass more than 3 million households by the end of 2005. This year the company will add 3 million more homes, ultimately investing billions of dollars in the project.

Tip Jar: Message from mayor

But the FiOS rollout goes way beyond consumers. For starters, Verizon hired 700 contractors in Fort Wayne to build the network and 200 permanent workers to run it. The mayor hopes to incubate start-ups and encourage larger companies to relocate to his city and invest more in Fort Wayne. High-speed bandwidth at affordable prices makes it easier for small companies to compete with larger ones.

Raytheon employs nearly 1,000 workers in Fort Wayne who work on radio terminals and battle-management systems for the military. "This year we're approaching hiring 100 engineers and scientists in Fort Wayne," says Wayne Iurillo, Raytheon's site executive for Fort Wayne. "Scientists are looking for what services are offered in a community," he says. Aside from attracting new employees, a high-speed connection means better productivity for Raytheon's teleworkers. Raytheon also works with smaller vendors in Fort Wayne who need to do things such as transfer drawings. "This network gives them the ability to communicate with us faster," Iurillo says.

"From our perspective, it is another tool in our toolbox to recruit companies and to help companies grow," says Anita Yamanaka-Bryan, vice president of operations for the Fort Wayne/Allen County Economic Development Alliance.

Thomas Miller is Verizon's first customer in Fort Wayne. He's a field service engineer for Misys Healthcare Systems, a medical software firm based in Raleigh, N.C., that has more than 2,600 employees. Miller is one of 150 field service engineers who work from home. Already, he finds that with his 15Mbps downstream and 2Mbps upstream, he can connect to work and finish work more quickly. With discounts for being a Verizon DSL customer, Miller pays $39.95 per month. His firm is just starting to migrate to faster connections with clients. When that happens, he'll be able to access trouble tickets and take care of client software issues more quickly.

For the record, Verizon says that Fort Wayne had topped its Great Lakes region deployment list all along. But Verizon credits the mayor with helping the network project run smoothly. The mayor aided Verizon by issuing permits quickly and holding a job fair so Verizon could hire employees. He knew there would be plenty of digging in streets and customer front yards -10,000 utility locations in all - so he helped facilitate communications with other utility companies as well as consumers. "That cooperation allowed us to move up our general availability schedules six to eight weeks," says Mike Millegan, North Central Market area president for Verizon.

In return, Richard's city now has a fiber-to-the-home network that will allow the community to develop new services. Fort Wayne will use this network to conduct after-school online mentoring, connecting retired school teachers to after-school programs so they can help students with homework.

One ophthalmologist in town will likely use the network to connect to three health clinics so he can read retinal exams remotely. The mayor also plans to have a handful of community initiatives in place that will take advantage of the FiOS network. He's making good on a promise to Verizon to come up with innovative ways to serve the underserved, he says.

The mayor is more than happy to make good on his end of the bargain. He says, "This is the largest infrastructure improvement we've ever seen in our city."

King is a freelance writer. She can be reached at rachael@celticknot.net.

Graham Richard

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