Fiber rings service battle waged in New Hampshire

Jan. 1, 1998

Fiber rings service battle waged in New Hampshire


Across the nation, competitive access providers are rushing through the doors opened by the Telecommunications Act of 1996 and dropping capital into the local telecommunications market.

One company, Brooks Fiber Properties Inc., St. Louis, MO, has gone from 500 to more than 1000 fiber route-mi in the past year, and now has fiber-optic networks in operation or under development in 45 metropolitan areas throughout the nation. Beginning this month, Lightwave will begin an occasional series of stories examining Brooks Fiber`s efforts to break into New Hampshire`s local telecommunications market through the construction of a fiber-optic network.

Construction of a new fiber-optic network in southern New Hampshire between Manchester and Nashua fits Brooks Fiber`s strategy of entering second- and third-tier markets with populations between 250,000 and 2 million. According to Keith Markley, general manager at Brooks Fiber Communications in New Hampshire, Brooks Fiber also prefers to enter markets that don`t already have multiple competitive local exchange carriers in place.

According to the New Hampshire Public Utilities Commission, no other competitive local exchange carriers are building networks in the state at this time. However, Vitts Corp., Manchester, NH, and Freedom Ring Communications have interconnection agreements in place with the commission and Bell Atlantic, a regional Bell operating company. The two carriers are buying Bell Atlantic network capacity on a wholesale basis and reselling it and value-added services to customers. Meanwhile, FiveCom Inc. of Waltham, MA, runs an arm of its New England Optical Network from Nashua to Manchester as well (see Lightwave, June 1997, page 1).

Formed three years ago, Brooks Fiber is working to compete with regional Bells in 50 markets by the end of 1998. The company budgeted $290 million to fund its national network expansion through 1997 and 1998 (see Lightwave, June 1997, page 11). However, due to the company`s pending $2.9 billion acquisition by WorldCom Inc., Brooks Fiber officials were mum about specific expenditures and anticipated revenues in New Hampshire and elsewhere.

Brooks Fiber`s stated mission is to provide business, government, and carrier customers with voice, data, and video telecommunications solutions on company fiber-optic networks, along with high-quality customer services. Brooks Fiber Communications, a subsidiary of Brooks Fiber Properties, is the telecommunications provider, while Brooks Fiber Properties provides technology and financial management.

In some places, Brooks Fiber enters a local market by acquiring an existing telecommunications network, as was the case with Phoenix Fiberlink in Salt Lake City, UT. In New Hampshire, Brooks Fiber built a fiber-optic network between the two largest cities in the state, which also log the most voice and data traffic on Bell Atlantic`s network.

High-traffic route

Manchester, with a population of about 177,500, lies 16 mi north of Nashua, which has a population of approximately 175,800. Both are in the southcentral portion of the state. Erle Pierce, public relations director for Bell Atlantic in New Hampshire, says the Manchester and Nashua area is a good selection for competitive local exchange carriers trying to scoop up the state`s heavy telecommunications users.

"By running the cable from Manchester to Nashua, [Brooks Fiber] is able to pick off many large businesses. I mean, that`s New Hampshire`s Silicon Valley, if you will."

In addition to being ranked a top small metro area for telecommuters in the April 1997 Money magazine/PC World survey, Manchester is a hub for service and manufacturing jobs. Top employers include Osram Sylvania, General Electric Co., Freudenberg-nok, Velcro, usa, and Optima Health Inc.

Nashua boasts high-tech, manufacturing, and service companies. The area`s largest employers include Digital Equipment Corp., Sanders--A Lockheed Martin Co., Southern New Hampshire Regional Medical Center, and Teradyne Connection Systems. Given both communities` proximity to the Massachusetts border and New Hampshire`s lack of a sales tax--Nashua neighbors the Bay State and Manchester is 30 mi north--strip malls and shopping centers abound.

"If you had to build one route in the state and get as many large businesses as you could, that would probably be it, in that 16-mile stretch," Pierce says. "What companies such as Brooks do is go into the major business districts and pick what we call the `low hanging fruit.` They want to be able to get the largest return that they can on their investment."

Markley says that the senior management officials at Brooks Fiber saw enough revenue potential in the southern New Hampshire area to make a capital investment worthwhile. The company wouldn`t comment on the number or type of its customers. However, it announced last year that at&t had agreed to use Brooks Fiber networks for its dedicated access business in the new market.

"Not only is there a solid base of customers, but the marketplace is underserved. The quantity and quality of service is almost non-existent. A business opportunity exists in these communities and we are very well received," Markley says.

Putting the pieces together

Before Brooks Fiber could enter the local market, however, it had to fulfill regulatory, design, and permit requirements.

As part of the regulatory process, all competitive local exchange carriers have to interconnect with the local exchange carrier--in this case, Bell Atlantic--for routing and billing purposes. Brooks Fiber has a physical collocation with Bell Atlantic; its equipment terminates in Bell Atlantic`s central office but is maintained by Brooks Fiber. The regulatory process also involved meeting state regulations and securing right-of-way agreements with private property owners and municipalities, Markley says.

In accordance with company practice, a project team was dispatched from St. Louis, and all decisions about vendors, products, and network equipment were made at that level, Markley says. The team also handled the day-to-day construction management, while local management sought an administration staff for sales, customer service, and maintenance. He says finding experienced technicians and sales staff was not a problem when setting up the operation in New Hampshire.

The resulting Manchester/Nashua ringed network is built with singlemode fiber cable that is capable of 2.5-Gbit/sec OC-48 speeds. The amount of fiber strands per cable range from 96 fibers up to six sheaths of 96 fibers, depending on how much capacity a customer wants, Markley says. A percentage of the fiber is unlit, but the company declined to say how much of the entire capacity is dark.

Loops and rings in the two cities are connected with two other longer-haul fiber networks. The ring configurations provide rerouting of traffic in the event of a fiber-optic cable cut. A Lucent 5ESS 2000 switch is located in Manchester, and a hub with a fully functional Lucent exm extended switch module is located in a remote area for efficiency. The network is monitored by Brooks Fiber`s network operations center in Grand Rapids, MI, although there is also local monitoring capability.

The network was designed so that some portions--particularly those sections in crowded downtown areas--were installed underground. Other portions, such as the 18-mi stretch between the cities, are aerial.

"In Nashua, you have some great examples of both. We`ve replaced dozens and dozens of utility poles in the downtown areas, and dug up streets and sidewalks," Markley says.

Services offered by Brooks Fiber include self-healing metropolitan area networks; voice, video, and data connections; broadband videoconferencing; and Asynchronous Transfer Mode (atm), frame relay, and local exchange switched services. Customers can choose any level of service from a single phone line to proprietary networks, according to Markley.

Under the guidelines imposed by the Telecommunications Act of 1996, Bell Atlantic had to provide all of the elements required for Brooks Fiber to resell local exchange service and associated elements, along with directory listings. Although some regional Bells are offering operating support system services, such as repair, customized billing, switch operation, and dispatch services, Brooks Fiber is handling such services on its own.

Markley estimates that Brooks Fiber`s basic service will cost 15% to 20% less than that of Bell Atlantic, and the savings will be greater on more-complex services. The company offers month-to-month rates that vary for each city and lower rates if the customer signs a one-, three-, or five-year service agreement.

Pierce says that Bell Atlantic, other carriers, and customers will be watching to see how Brooks Fiber fares. "It remains to be seen to see if [Brooks] can continue to offer the service at a reduced price, but that`s usually how [competitive local exchange carriers] enter the market. If someone is comfortable with his Bell Atlantic service, then it becomes even more difficult for Brooks to enter into the market," Pierce says.

Markley is confident that business will boom. "We use very proven technology and offer atm switching and frame relay switching. Our base network is built on proven, sound, technology, plus we have the fancy bells and whistles so we can do even what everyone else does," he says. q

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