Brooks Fiber doubles fiber route-miles in 12 months

June 1, 1997

Brooks Fiber doubles fiber route-miles in 12 months

n PAUL PALUMBO

Competitive access provider Brooks Fiber Properties Inc., St. Louis, MO, has more than doubled its route-miles of optical fiber over the past year through a mix of metropolitan network acquisition and targeted new plant construction. Route-miles have grown from 506 in 1996 to 1059 today. The number of cities served has risen from 25 (with 13 operating) to 44 in 1997.

The current route-mile count does not include the recently announced merger of Brooks Fiber and Metro Access Networks (a unit of Century Telephone Enterprise Inc.). This acquisition will span seven cities in Texas and will add another 326 route-miles.

The access provider is currently building new network plant in the metropolitan areas of Minneapolis/St. Paul, MN, and Long Island, NY. These builds are budgeted at about $66 million. In total, Brooks Fiber has budgeted $290 million to fund its network expansion through 1997 and 1998.

The company targets so-called second- and third-tier markets with populations ranging from 250,000 to 2 million. Most of Brooks`s networks are concentrated in the Northeast, Southwest, and California (see figure). These metropolitan networks provide access to 70% to 80% of the identified business, government, and institutional end-user revenue. They also have access to interexchange carrier facilities, or points of presence, and the principal central offices of the local exchange carriers within their markets.

Over the past six months, Brooks has acquired eight fiber networks. The networks are either operational (such as Phoenix Fiberlink in Salt Lake City, UT) or under construction. The company takes "an integrated approach" to getting new networks up and running, according to vice president of corporate development Mark Ritter. "Brooks tackles network integration from provisioning, billing, network plant, and network operations perspectives," he says.

Ritter reveals that the company dispatches a team to each newly acquired network. The team puts together the action items necessary to integrate the facilities into Brooks`s standard architecture. "It`s an interdisciplinary group that considers different aspects of the new network--what needs to happen to make integration happen smoothly," he explains.

Brooks does not have a point-to-point backbone network. Connectivity between its 44 metropolitan networks and the company`s dual network operations control centers is leased from major long-haul carriers. "Whatever electronics are deployed locally will not have an effect on connectivity between cities; these are 44 stand-alone networks," comments Ritter.

When a network is acquired, the first step is to get it connected to an operations control center. Network elements can then be monitored around the clock.

Ritter says physical plant integration has not been particularly complicated. The exhaustion of fiber capacity has not been an issue with these networks, and locally deployed transmission equipment can usually interface with a Brooks switch, assuming a switch is there. Brooks has two operating switches, one in Sacramento, CA, and the other in Grand Rapids, MI. It uses 5ess switching gear supplied by Lucent Technologies and dms 500 gear from Northern Telecom.

Demand-driven expansion

Waymon Tipton, vice president of Brooks Fiber Properties, suggests that the acquisition of fiber plant is all "demand driven." He says fiber plant is acquired based on multiple factors, but the strength of competition already in the marketplace is considered carefully. "Brooks may build or acquire based on who else is there and the relationship between the long-distance carrier and our company," he explains. Key for Brooks is whether or not the long-distance company has a preferred provider in those markets.

Brooks always undertakes a "build versus buy analysis," including the bottom-line impact of franchise fees, problems associated with deploying fiber in certain regions (such as in Minnesota during winter), and even the cost of boring new conduit.

"In the acquire stage, we look at fiber counts--do they meet standard Brooks parameters? If not, we may have to pull more fiber; and is there conduit to do that?" Tipton adds. Brooks also considers whether the network is revenue-producing, and if it isn`t, how long it will be until it is profitable. It also takes into account the availability of trained sales people.

Then the transmission equipment is scrutinized. Compatibility is not an issue, since each city network is a self-contained operating system. According to Ritter, whatever equipment is deployed (i.gif., Lucent, Fujitsu, Nortel) will generally continue to be used if it is acceptable. q

Paul Palumbo writes from Seaside, CA.

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