WorldCom gets in on Broadband

Tuesday, August 15th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WorldCom Inc. applied for federal licenses Monday that would allow it to provide high-speed Internet access to residential and business customers in Dallas and more than 60 other metropolitan areas.

The service, which would be distributed over a wireless frequency, would compete against SBC Communications' digital subscriber line modems and AT&T's cable modems. WorldCom officials say residential Internet service will cost about $40 a month, about what SBC charges for DSL.

The Federal Communications Commission must approve the licenses before WorldCom can start offering the service. WorldCom hopes to start it in the first quarter of 2001. The company has been testing the service in Dallas, Memphis, Tenn., and Baton Rouge, La.

The "fixed wireless" service would be delivered on a frequency currently used by educational institutions and nonprofits to transmit video signals. WorldCom, based in Clinton, Miss., says it has struck deals with those groups to share the spectrum.

WorldCom said it would place transmission equipment on high-rise buildings in 15 or 16 locations around the Dallas area. The equipment will talk with pizza-box-sized antennas mounted on homes and businesses.

Jonathan Mapes, chief technology officer for WorldCom Wireless Solutions, said its service will be more accessible than DSL, because it is not limited to customers located close enough to new wire-based services.

"This is truly one of the technology solutions that can provide broadband access to areas where they don't have any choice at all," Mr. Mapes said.

DSL speeds up the transmission of data over traditional telephone wires. Customers have to be located within 17,500 feet (3.3 miles) of a control office that has DSL equipment to get the service.

AT&T offers high-speed connections to the Internet through cable lines that also deliver TV signals.

Theoretically, cable offers faster access than DSL, but the service can slow down considerably as more users are added.

AT&T is also servicing about 3,000 Dallas-Fort Worth residential customers through a fixed wireless system similar to WorldCom's. That system offers high-speed Internet access and phone service. WorldCom said it plans to add phone service to its fixed wireless system in the future.

"AT&T faces competition for virtually every service it provides, whether it's long distance, Internet access, wireless, whatever," said AT&T spokesman Kerry Hibbs. "So what we will concentrate on is providing the best services we can."

But some customers who use AT&T's fixed wireless service say that it has been highly unreliable.

A handful have filed complaints with the state Public Utility Commission.

George Kimeldorf of Dallas said he has been unable to make or receive calls for long stretches. AT&T technicians and customer service have done little to help, he said.

"Imagine you have a phone and you just don't know at any moment if you can receive a call or not," said Mr. Kimeldorf, who runs a real estate finance business out of his home. "You are completely held hostage."

Mr. Hibbs said some customers in the area lost service temporarily because AT&T's networks didn't have enough capacity to serve them, but the problem was fixed Saturday.

"We are doubling the capacity over the network," he said. "Nobody should be having that problem" anymore.

AT&T said that it is rolling out fixed wireless in Houston, Los Angeles, San Diego and Anchorage, Alaska.