Illinois Towns Weigh Fiber Projects

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A cluster of communities in northern Illinois is contemplating the possibility of joint telecommunications projects, possibly in competition with local provider AT & T Broadband.

Each of the communities has a municipal utility. With the advent of deregulation, they think video delivery or other telecommunications services may help them in the competitive world ahead.

So far, the seats at the informal discussions have been filled by representatives from Rochelle, Rock Falls, Batavia, Geneseo, Peru, Princeton and St. Charles. And participants said two other cities have expressed interest.

Each of the cities has been researching possible plans since it became clear that their formerly monopoly electrical businesses would be opened for competition.

For instance, Rochelle has already received its service authority to become a commercial local-exchange carrier.

Bob Rogde, engineer for the utility there, added that a research-and-development project is examining the viability of a municipal cable operation and other telecommunications products to compete head-to-head with incumbents AT & T Broadband and GTE Corp.

All of the utilities have strung some fiber to date. Since cities frequently partner on other services-such as police and water or sanitation districts-it made sense to see if a telecommunications partnership was possible, Rogde said.

The towns are rural, farm-centered communities, and officials are frustrated with the fact that such municipalities are at the end of deployment schedules for high-speed-data rollouts, if they make the schedules at all. They want big-city advantages sooner, rather than later.

The will to move into new businesses may be there, but the way can be clouded. Rock Falls continues to pursue plans for possible cable partnerships despite a recent vote against municipal cable. Citizens voted 670-545 last month against efforts by the city to "construct, own or operate" a cable system.

But elected officials noted that the vote was not binding. They also believe voters were influenced by a strong anti-municipal campaign by AT & T. Mayor Edward Mulvaney remains supportive of a municipal phone and Internet service.

Rogde said the cities have no firm target dates for a task force. But issues under examination are the feasibility of a regional headend, cooperative program purchasing, development of a Web site and interconnection.

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