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For the week of August 30 through September 5, 2000

Potential DSL providers stumble over hurdles

Competitors coax Quest for prompt start date

RMCI, it seems, had hoped to roll out DSL for valley users sometime in late September or October. But problems between US West and the RMCI/New Edge team have delayed that date for the unknown future.

Express Staff Writer

Charles Barry says the Wood River Valley is full of people who have "embraced the telecommunications concept." And that, he says, makes the area ripe for a digital subscriber line—called DSL—a low-cost technology aimed at providing small businesses and home users the same high-speed Internet connection normally reserved for large organizations with deep pockets.

But wiring the valley for DSL has not been easy. Bureaucratic delays could give alternative technologies, such as cable modems, a jump in the race for faster, cheaper, better communications.

Many hoped the area’s telephone company, US West, would provide DSL. But company representatives in the past have said they’re not interested in selling the service here because "three Ds" don’t add up to profitability: demand and population density are too low and distances in the spread-out valley are too great.

Now, the company for which Barry is a business development manager, New Edge, hopes to partner with Rocky Mountain Communications (RMCI), to provide what US West won’t.

RMCI advertises in local newspapers that up to 500 people can "pre-register" for DSL services that are "up to 200 times faster than dial-up" services. The advertised cost is $17.95 per month plus regular line charges ranging from $40 to $240 per month.

That’s good news for state legislator Wendy Jaquet, D-Ketchum, and 28-year AT&T veteran Al Lindley, who heads an economic development committee in Hailey. Jaquet said she and Lindley have been "rattling the cages" of telecommunications companies to wake them up to the idea of providing DSL here.

Their reasons for pushing DSL are many.

The users that benefit the most—small offices and home offices, known collectively as SOHOs—have blossomed in recent years, they said.

So have the so-called clean businesses like Hailey- and Ketchum-based high-tech recruiters, which rely on the Internet to connect programmers and other high-tech professionals with employers from Southern California to Timbuktu.

Lindley said he would like to encourage more "clean businesses" to move here.

And, Lindley and Jaquet believe super-fast telecommunications is the long-sought-after answer to the seasonal slack the valley’s tourist-based economy faces each spring and fall. The Internet, they said, gives local businesses the opportunity to sell practically anywhere in the world. High-powered business moguls, they said, could be enticed to spend more time here, if only the telecommunications were faster.

"No doubt about it," said Lindley, "people are making decisions about where they live based on telecommunications."

RMCI, it seems, had hoped to roll out DSL for valley users sometime in late September or October. But problems between US West and the RMCI/New Edge team have delayed that date for the unknown future.

Federal law requires US West to cooperate with competitors like RCMI/New Edge in their efforts to install needed equipment. For RMCI/New Edge, that equipment mostly includes hardware that plugs into US West’s central offices in Hailey and Ketchum. A recent merger, however—US West is now Quest—has created a decision-making log jam at the phone company, according to Quest spokesman Mike Reynoldson. Consequently, RMCI’s efforts to launch DSL, it seems, are suffering.

Barry was unable say when his people would be able to install DSL equipment at the Ketchum and Hailey central offices. He was careful not to criticize the telephone company, but said, "We are pretty much at the mercy of Quest."

RMCI, New Edge and other companies, it seems, must gently coax the reluctant Quest for assistance in locating their equipment at Quest’s central offices, while the telephone company has little motivation to give fast, efficient help to its competitors.

It’s a problem that is likely to continue even after RMCI successfully launches DSL.

Designed 13 years ago to be delivered over century-old copper cable networks, DSL, ironically, doesn’t work on fiber optic cable. That’s a problem for potential DSL users who have fiber optic cable between their computers and the central office.

Another problem is filters—called load coils—that cancel noise during voice calls. Telephone companies began installing them before the Internet existed to cut off frequencies above 4kHz. Load coils are incompatible with DSL because it works at 400kHz or higher.

According to several Internet sites, load coils exist on 15 to 20 percent of local telephone networks.

Quest representative Reynoldson said the telephone company doesn’t know the quantity or location of either fiber optic cable or load coils in the Wood River Valley. Without that information, RMCI/New Edge won’t know for sure how many customers will actually be able to get DSL in the valley.

"For competitive reasons," Reynoldson said, he can’t provide figures on the number of potential DSL users locally. But, he offered, typically, about 20 percent of current telephone customers can qualify for DSL.

Barry said he doesn’t think Quest has any objection to removing the load coils, which would open up DSL to potentially scores of subscribers, but Quest, on the other hand, doesn’t have any particular motivation to remove them for RMCI/New Edge.

New equipment called remote terminals could overcome the fiber optic barrier, but without knowing the quantity and location of fiber in the valley, Barry said, RMCI/New Edge has no way of planning to use remote terminals, or of knowing whether they’re even needed.

Distance also limits DSL service. People with more than three miles of telephone line between their computers and the central office can’t get the service. RMCI/New Edge would also need Quest’s cooperation to install equipment that could extend that range.

Because of those problems with DSL, Cox Communications spokesman Mike Reynolds said, he thinks people in the Wood River Valley will embrace cable modems.

Like DSL, Internet service provided by the television cable company is always on. At $30 to $40 per month and two to 10 times faster than current telephone modem connections, the service, like DSL, is aimed at small businesses and home users.

Reynolds said he thinks cable modems will be especially appealing to residential users, because most households already have a telephone line and a television cable line. That means most new users won’t need to have a new line installed. In fact, Reynolds said, the only cost other than the monthly rate is the initial purchase of a network card that plugs into the user’s computer—about $60.

Cox Communications is currently testing the service in 10 homes in Elkhorn and other valley locations, Reynolds said, and plans to begin offering it to a limited amount of customers September 15.

Like DSL, however, cable modem service is far from perfect.

Many small businesses don’t currently have television cable installed. Because they do have telephone lines, they may be more attracted to DSL, which would likely require not much more than a phone call to get started.

More importantly, cable modem service is set up much like the old-fashioned party line telephone networks with many users sharing one line. The shared nature of cable modem service, some say, creates security issues and causes transmissions to slow down as more users get online.


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