Details of SBC's DSL Plan Spark Concerns

DALLAS (03/27/2000) - Mega-Bell company SBC Communications Inc. has come up with a design for its massive new digital subscriber line (DSL) network that is upsetting competitors and won't deliver many of the service options business users desire.

Under Project Pronto, SBC plans to make most of its 13-state territory DSL-capable by pushing fiber out to 20,000 DSL remote switching office terminals. The idea is to reduce the length of the copper loops serving most residential and business locations to meet DSL distance restrictions.

But documents recently filed with the government reveal that for its remote terminals SBC has chosen Alcatel SA line cards that currently restrict the service to asymmetric DSL (ADSL), which offers limited upstream speeds and which many competitive local exchange carriers (CLEC) consider strictly a consumer service.

SBC is also forcing competitors to use the Alcatel equipment if they want to lease the copper loops. That's leading to complaints from CLECs wishing to offer symmetrical DSL (SDSL) or higher-speed options to compete with T-1s for business locations.

What's more, SBC admits that the collocation space for CLECs in the remote terminals is tight, and SBC plans a sparse initial rollout for the Ameritech territory (see graphic). Ameritech is the carrier SBC bought after promising the Federal Communications Commission it would speed up broadband deployment.

Worst of all to some CLECs and AT&T, the documents reveal that SBC is not planning to provide voice over DSL - or even regular voice bundled with data - over a single line except in one configuration, where the incumbent telco provides the voice and another carrier provides the data.

The CLECs' frustration came to a head at a March 1 meeting with Project Pronto officials in Dallas. At the meeting, captured by a court reporter whose transcript was filed at the FCC, the CLECs hammered SBC executives for failing to consult them about the network design.

Last October, SBC said it would during 2000 provide voice over DSL and the kind of DSL bandwidth beyond ADSL that's required to lash together voice and data (see story, below). But when the design plan presented to CLECs on March 1 lacked these features, one CLEC representative - Sharon Thomas, public policy director of Advanced TelCom Group in Santa Rosa, Calif., - demanded to know how her company could get a loop to provide both voice and data under SBC's remote-terminal setup.

After checking his slide presentation, SBC wholesale product-management director Rod Cruz responded: "You know, I think it's a good suggestion. I don't think it's something we've contemplated, so I think we'll have to go back to the drawing board and address that."

Thomas retorted: "That's pretty scary."

SBC and the CLECs also had a testy exchange over what, if any, room the CLECs would have in the remote switching office terminals. Asked one CLEC official:

"Are you just going to have one 19-inch shelf open, or what are the plans?"

After one SBC official admitted "we're still working through that," another CLEC representative pressed the point: "How can we compete if you're not going to provide space to collocate?

"Well, you know, the [remote terminal] is a real tricky place," responded SBC official Allan Samson. "As I think you would agree, there's no requirement for us to go out and build more [remote terminals] and make them bigger."

CLECs have good reason to be worried, says Tom Nolle, president of CIMI Corp., a consulting firm in Voorhees, N.J. The Project Pronto network design "is going to kill them, because the fiber remotes were already the reason the CLECs weren't going to amount to anything" in the mass market.

Some limitations are beyond SBC's control, Nolle says. SBC isn't making available SDSL substitutes for T-1 "not because SDSL isn't SBC's choice, but because Alcatel at this moment doesn't have a line card for it."

SBC officials were not available for further comment last week, but in their own follow-up letter, SBC lawyers told the FCC to "recognize the CLECs' objections to Project Pronto as what they are: an attempt to delay and handicap SBC's deployment of advanced services."

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