Carriers Debate 'Last Mile' Strategies

LAS VEGAS (05/09/2000) - While they are racing to provide the "last mile" of service into the homes of customers, telecommunications companies are eyeing each other warily to see who is gaining competitive advantage. At the NetWorld+Interop (N+I) show here today, several carriers had a chance to sound their rivals out in a rough-and-tumble debate.

Executives from AT&T Corp., WorldCom Inc., Qwest Communications International Inc., SBC Communications Inc., and NextLink Communications Inc. took part in the Network World Broadband Access Showdown panel debate today, taking turns questioning each other, sometimes pointedly.

The carriers are worried that the company with the best combination of fiber, copper or wireless services will be able to leverage those advantages into a dominant market position, said Matthew Davis, senior analyst with Yankee Group Inc., a Boston-based research and consulting firm.

"These companies all want to capture the customers through the last mile solutions (of communication lines into their home)" Davis said. "Then they can sell them more services. They want to offer them voice, video, Internet, a whole range of services."

So it was no wonder that the questions at today's panel discussion had some bite. Here are some examples of the exchanges among the executives.

Qwest's Augie Cruciotti, a senior vice president, cited reports that said AT&T had lost some small and medium-sized business customers to other carriers. "How do you expect to maintain your quality of service?" he inquired of J. Michael Jenner, AT&T vice president of Internet services.

"In data, cable and wireless, we're growing at or above the market rate," Jenner responded testily.

Jenner fielded another hostile question from SBC.

"Since we're talking about the last mile, when is AT&T planning to open up the last mile of cable?," Jason Few, an SBC vice president, asked Jenner. In December last year, AT&T said it would no longer bar competing ISPs (Internet service providers) and planned to end its exclusive arrangement with ISP Excite@Home Inc. for cable-based access by 2002.

"AT&T will open up its cable infrastructure in 2002 as planned," Jenner answered. "We are figuring out how many ISPs we can support."

Fred Briggs, MCI WorldCom's chief technology officer, turned to SBC's Few, saying he wanted to know when SBC would open up its networks to other carriers like MCI WorldCom. "We want to provide our customers with the latest technology at an affordable price," he said.

Few said SBC was already cooperating with other carriers. "We want to offer more choices to our customers," he said.

MCI WorldCom, in Jackson, Mississippi, can be reached at +1-601-360-8600 or at http://www.mciworldcom.com/.AT&T Corp., based in Basking Ridge, New Jersey, is at http://www.att.com/. SBC, in San Antonio, Texas, can be reached at +1-210-821-4105 or at http://www.sbc.com/. NextLink, in Bellevue, Washington, can be contacted at +1-425-519-8900, and on the Web at http://www.nextlink.com/. Qwest, in Denver, is at +1-303-291-1400, or at http://www.qwest.com/.

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