SBC starving for DSL network space

By David Rohde, Network World |  Networking

CHICAGO -- More than a year into a three-year, $6 billion project to extend DSL availability to most of its territory, mega-Bell SBC is beseeching its customers to provide the remote-terminal space it needs to fulfill its high-speed network promise.

The move comes as SBC's Midwestern subsidiary, Ameritech, is only beginning to install long-promised neighborhood terminals to extend DSL loop lengths, blunting SBC's claim to be moving faster than other Bells to solve persistent nationwide DSL availability and provisioning problems.

Over the past few weeks, Ameritech has been sending postcards to thousands of residential users in Ohio and Illinois asking them to consider selling rights-of-way on their property to Ameritech. In addition, the carrier has made the same request throughout its five-state region to users inquiring online about DSL availability.

Ameritech needs the space to extend asymmetric DSL-capable loop lengths to customer locations situated more than 12,000 feet from central offices. SBC announced in October 1999 that its operating units would install a total of 25,000 remote terminals in what it dubbed Project Pronto, aiming to be the first carrier to make DSL a nearly universal remote-access option for small-office, telecommuter and extranet sites.

But Ameritech's move a year later to solicit remote-terminal space from customers has fallen in the middle of an Ameritech customer-service crisis that recently led SBC CEO Ed Whitacre to apologize.

Some users and consultants in the Midwest point to the solicitations, which direct property owners to e-mail addresses and an 800 line operated by the Project Pronto Right-of-Way Support Team, as proof that SBC has allowed Ameritech to fall behind on network improvements.

Others maintain that officials from Texas-based SBC were unpleasantly surprised by the state of Ameritech's network, and underestimated the amount of work needed to extend DSL availability to 80% of Ameritech's territory, as SBC has promised for all its regions. Under Project Pronto, SBC operating units run fiber directly from central offices to neighborhood terminals mostly outfitted with Alcatel ADSL line cards, which then connect to customer locations over short copper loops.

"Ameritech was a house of cards," says James Carlini, president of Carlini & Associates, a telecom consulting firm in Hinsdale, Ill. Under former Ameritech CEO Richard Notebaert, he says, "Ameritech was always falling behind everybody else" and consistently failed to run the fiber that SBC now needs for Project Pronto.

Some Ameritech employees claim they've personally seen Whitacre lash out at what he found after SBC took over Ameritech in October 1999.

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