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Forget pork, local politician lobbies for fiber

By Rachael King, Network World
January 23, 2006 12:02 AM ET

Network World - 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.

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.

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