• 70°

BellSouth proposes improved

telephone service

By BRIAN BLACKLEY

Managing Editor

March 6, 2000 11 PM

Changes in the infrastructure of BellSouth’s service to Troy customers could bring cutting-edge technology to what is currently a limited system of telephone communication.

BellSouth, one of Alabama’s two major phone service carriers – and the phone service carrier for residents within Troy’s local calling area – has proposed bringing a new switching station to Troy to replace the old one that is about 10 years old, said Tyler Fondren with BellSouth media relations.

Because of technological limitations, Fondren said Troy’s communication system couldn’t be significantly upgraded until a new switch is put in the Troy office. The switch, taking advantage of the latest technological developments, means that Troy residents could have high-speed Internet access through ISDN and ADSL lines in the near future.

"We were approached a few years ago about deploying ISDN lines in Troy as a building block for economic development," Fondren said. "At that time, it was not a possibility based on two stumbling blocks. The first was that the switching station in Troy couldn’t handle the service, and the second was that we were not sure the market would bear such an expensive investment. The key here is that we couldn’t do it."

But legislation passed in 1996 has made the possibility a real one.

The Telecommunications Act of 1996 enacted legislation that was designed to keep rural areas viable from a technology standpoint with more urban areas, Fondren said. And the result was that money came through the Federal Communications Commission to be invested in small markets.

BellSouth’s proposal to the Alabama Public Service Commission and to the federal government includes replacing 13 older switches with the digitally compliant switches for a total cost of about $13.9 million.

One of the switches, housed here in Troy, is on the board to be upgraded.

"Before this act was passed, we couldn’t do something like this based on cost factors," Fondren said. "This makes it easier for us."

Fondren said the current switch is like an older computer that has been upgraded and utilized until it can no longer handle the newest technologies on the market, making replacement of it necessary for better communications here.

"Once we get a new switch in, we will have the technology to add ISDN lines and other high-speed technology for phone customers," Fondren said.

The cost of replacing the switch is in excess of $1 million.

Fondren said that BellSouth looked at the money that would come in through the government act and placed better switches as a top priority.

"This is something that means Troy residents would stand a lot to gain," he said.

Approval of the project is in the hands of the state and federal government at this point, Fondren said, and the PSC is expected to render its decision by early next week.

"This is something I think all the people of this area would want," Fondren said. "It’s coming from the government, through a fund we pay into. The bottom line is that the money is going to be spent somewhere and it may as well be here."

Pike County Chamber of Commerce President Marsha Gaylard said better Internet and telecommunication access is a valuable industrial recruitment tool.

"This is something visiting industries look at," she said.

Besides putting in a new switching station, Fondren said additional money would be spent to upgrade fiber-optic lines between Troy and Dothan.

"This positions Troy to be in the same ballpark as major metro areas when it comes to technology," Fondren said.