Calif. Town Picks DSL Ombudsman


AT&T Broadband may find that few consumers need its cable-modem service by the time it builds out in Novato, Calif.

That's because the Northern California town has appointed a municipal "broadband ombudsman" to help citizens who want to sign up for digital subscriber line service.

Alan Shear, municipal analyst for the Marin County city, has been designated its data czar.

Novato — a town of 48,000 north of San Francisco — "is full of former dot-comers," said Shear. "We want to show providers there is a market here."

Those providers include AT&T Broadband, which has told city officials it doesn't intend to upgrade its system to provide cable-modem service until 2004.

It seems citizens got dueling messages about the city's only wireline high-speed option, digital-subscriber line service. Verizon Communications and Pacific Bell both serve the city, but in different areas.

Potential customers would call one of the telcos, only to be told they weren't in that company's service area. Yet when Shear would follow up on the complaint, he said, he would find out that the address was serviceable.

"I couldn't understand it," Shear said. "Here were folks, ready and willing to give them their money, and they said, 'We can't serve you,' without even checking. There was a real disconnect in information."

Took some time

By last June, the mayor and city council had heard enough complaining to call for a meeting with the telephone companies. But it took Shear 10 months to track down and talk with the executives and engineers from the two providers who could provide a service map.

The city has determined that 70 percent of its residents are within DSL service areas. Shear will help citizens with their questions and facilitate connections. If the home is not serviceable, he'll suggest a wireless technology, he said.

As for AT&T Broadband, Shear said he hoped his activities would convince the operator to speed up the timing of its rebuild.