Fiber finds safe harbor in water-recycling trenches

April 1, 1995

Fiber finds safe harbor in water-recycling trenches

Lynn Haber

A 55-mile-long hole in the ground frames an opportunity that could make the City of San Jose a major player in the California multimedia delivery market of the next century.

Dubbed the Golden Triangle Fiber Optic Network project by its proponent--the Telecommunications Working Group--the proposed in-the-trenches fiber-optic telecommunications network could result in wholesale deployment of fiber throughout the Santa Clara Valley. This area comprises more than a half-dozen cities and towns and includes both residential and industrial districts.

The project`s goal is to establish a subscriber optical fiber delivery system capable of providing such high-speed, two-way communications services as telephony, data, video on demand and interactive television.

Now in an early planning stage, project proponents are investigating the investment required, as well as the level of effort involved with identifying sources of funding. Without the money or plans to do the project itself, the City of San Jose is seeking a partner or partners to build the fiber-optic network.

Options open

With no model of how the Golden Triangle Project should look, options for its design, construction, management and operation are open for discussion. "We don`t want to preclude any type of partnership or possibility," says Pamela Stone, assistant director of economic development for the City of San Jose.

However, the project criteria establishes minimum specifications for a state-of-the-art asynchronous transfer mode/synchronous optical network-based broadband network, an open platform design, regional connectivity and the development of a public sector institutional-net to provide broadband telecommunications capabilities to government, schools, universities and hospitals, according to the Telecommunications Working Group.

"We`d also be licensing public rights-of-way, but we envision it as a different kind of agreement, for a much more complex network infrastructure," says Lew Bauman, senior engineer with the Environmental Services Department for the City of San Jose.

For San Jose, time is of utmost importance for the proposed Golden Triangle project. A partnership award has to be made by January 1996 for collaboration on the final design to take place between the project`s partners and the South Bay Water Recycling engineers.

Fiber waterfall

The Golden Triangle Fiber Optic Network calls for cruising on the approved plans for the South Bay Water Recycling project. This recycling project entails, during Phase I, the digging of 55 miles of trenches within a 30-square-mile area that includes San Jose and portions of Milpitas and Santa Clara, CA.

The water recycling project is in the preliminary predesign phase. Construction is scheduled to begin in June 1996 and finish by the end of 1997, according to Stone.

The idea for installing fiber in open trenches was suggested as a way to leverage the recycling water project cost of $130 million and reap the benefits of optical communications. Phase II of the South Bay Water Recycling project is pegged at $430 million and includes passing through San Jose. The installation method of laying fiber cable in the trenches is still under study.

Market study

The city`s Environmental Services Department, in coordination with the Telecommunications Group, conducted a market study and issued a request for information to determine the level of interest by the telecommunications industry in the Golden Triangle project. According to Stone, the proposed fiber-optic project received widespread support.

Five telecommunications companies responded to the RFI. The first company is Infostructure--a privately held consortium that includes Alta Telephone (formerly known as Alberta Government Telephone), Bechtel Corp., Kidder Peabody and Stanford Research Institute. Also interested is MCI Metro ATS Inc., a newly formed division of MCI that focuses on providing local access services. Another respondent is Intercom, via a partnership with SP Telecom. The remaining two parties are Pacific Bell and the Intelcom Group, ICG Access Services.

Network integration

Another objective of the project is to encourage universal access to existing, and perhaps future, fiber-optic ring networks in the proposed area. "There`s a number of non-integrated fiber-optic rings in Silicon Valley. We`d like to see those rings integrated into a larger network," remarks Stone.

No formal inventory of the number of existing fiber rings in the area is available. However, several service providers own local network infrastructures, including Pacific Bell, a telecommunications provider; a sprinkling of competitive access providers; and Tele-Communications Inc., the nation`s leading cable-TV provider.

Another goal of the project involves the provision of telecommunications services at little or no cost to the city`s public educational and government service groups.

For potential private partners in the Golden Triangle project, perhaps the most appealing aspect is the low cost of entry. Because the city is footing the bill to dig the trenches, private companies would only be responsible for the remaining costs that relate to the installation of fiber. "We believe that this opens the opportunity for smaller players to enter the telecommunications market," explains Stone. q

Lynn Haber is a freelance writer based in Boston.