ARCHIVED  June 1, 1997

United Power, PRPA branch out

Don’t be surprised when the local electric company comes calling.

Telecommunications deregulation is prompting utility providers Platte River Power Authority of Fort Collins and United Power of Brighton to invest in huge fiber-optic networks that will allow them to provide an array of services in the near future.

Platte River Power Authority, owned by the cities of Estes Park, Fort Collins, Longmont and Loveland, is beginning work on a fiber-optic system that will connect the four cities and enable the electric utility to enter the telecommunications business.

United Power is exploring a partnership with Longmont and PRPA in development of a system that would serve cities along the northern Front Range.

The city of Longmont already has begun laying its own fiber-optic network.

“We initially started working on the fiber-optic cable project about one and a half years ago because we knew deregulation was coming along,´ said Jeff Gould, Longmont electric and telecommunications director.

It’s likely that PRPA will pick up part of the cost of that project, then begin connecting the other cities in its service area.

“We’re talking to people in the area about what their communication needs are,´ said Thaine Michie, general manager of Platte River Power Authority. “We’re studying very hard what we can and can’t do. We have lawyers working on it right now.”

A potential service – one that would prove valuable to businesses – is the possibility of direct dial tones to Denver.

United Power’s interest centers on establishing a partnership with PRPA.

“We’ve had one face-to-face meeting with PRPA and several with Longmont to discuss the possibility of a partnership,´ said Brian Heithoff, manager of financial services for United Power.

United Power serves almost 30,000 customers from north of Denver International Airport to north of Mead and as far east as Keenesburg, as well as in some mountain areas in Gilpin and Jefferson counties. Should the utility join the effort to install a fiber-optic system, it would probably double its work force of 120 over time.

Interest in a PRPA/United Power alliance appears to be mutual.

“As far as United Power is concerned, we may link with them,´ said PRPA’s Michie.

A partnership with PRPA would mean the two electric companies would be able to share a fiber-optic network reaching from Estes Park to towns on the Eastern Plains. Still, the two would compete for phone and other telecommunications customers.

One selling point for businesses, Michie explained, is that a fiber-optic network could allow direct connections among different locations. For example, employees at Woodward Governor Co. in Loveland could pick up a phone and immediately be linked to colleagues at the Fort Collins facility.

“The incumbent long-

distance service providers don’t seem to be racing to provide advanced services such as interactive video that are now available,” Heithoff said. “Hopefully, in conjunction with partners, we can enhance service to our communities.

“Since United Power is a cooperative, we do not have typical investor motivations,” Heithoff added. “Our main objective would be to better communities who want to work with us. We’ve made a policy: If we decided to go into a city, we wouldn’t do it without their blessing.”

PRPA’s fiber-optic network will cost approximately $4 million to install. Connecting it to businesses and elsewhere will cost more.

PRPA expects to have the network in place by late summer 1998.

In addition to phone service, fiber networks also can support uses such as cable television and home security systems.

Connecting four cities through the cable project is a bold move and one of the first of its kind in the country.

“No one in Colorado is doing this,´ said Longmont’s Gould. “Other cities inside and outside Colorado are calling us and asking for information. We are, in fact, a model.”

Longmont is seeking bids from telephone companies, Internet firms and cable-TV companies that could provide service using the fiber network.

Helen Taylor contributed to this report.

Don’t be surprised when the local electric company comes calling.

Telecommunications deregulation is prompting utility providers Platte River Power Authority of Fort Collins and United Power of Brighton to invest in huge fiber-optic networks that will allow them to provide an array of services in the near future.

Platte River Power Authority, owned by the cities of Estes Park, Fort Collins, Longmont and Loveland, is beginning work on a fiber-optic system that will connect the four cities and enable the electric utility to enter the telecommunications business.

United Power is exploring a partnership with Longmont and PRPA in development of a system that…

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