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Sacramento residents fight WINfirst FTTH plan

Thu, 01/24/2002 - 7:00pm
Anne Kerven

Homeowners are hot in WINfirst's Land Park project area near Sacramento, Calif. Claiming they'd just been notified last week about the overbuilder's fiber-to-the-home project in their neighborhood, residents last night turned out in force at a town meeting to confront WINfirst.

WINfirst has a three-year construction schedule in the Sacramento area and in October announced it had launched FTTH in the city. Land Park residents are concerned about utilities interruptions, the project's environmental impact and the long-term financial stability of Western Integrated Networks LLC, of which WINfirst is the brand.

Last night, several hundred Land Park residents confronted WINfirst representatives, but a spokesman for those residents claims the company was not receptive to compromise.

"It got more and more heated as the meeting went on and people there started to realize that WINfirst sees this as a done deal," says resident and spokesman Ron Gray. "Rather than use it as an opportunity to build good will, they have assumed that legal rights under the Telecom Act (of 1996) allow them to do what they goddamn want.

"I'll tell you what they were prepared to do," he says. "They were prepared to make a Powerpoint presentation on the wonderful services they'd provide to the community."

In response to the claims, WINfirst VP and General Manager of the Sacramento area Winston Ashizawa argues the company "indicated to the residents that we were there to explain what the normal construction process was. We are flexible, want to listen to community input and take it under advisement.

"What we tried to do is explain this is not a railroad job where construction will start next month," he says, although he would not say when construction might start. The date depended on several factors, including those of neighborhood concerns.

Gray says residents heard about the project via a flyer delivered last week.

Ashizawa says WINfirst and others distributed 4,500 fliers last week from all the parties involved. WINfirst had been working with the homeowners association since late last summer on the deal, and those involved decided they had enough information to call the meeting, he says.

About 10,000 homes comprise the Land Park neighborhood, Gray says. The project would entail 10 or 12 remote utility vaults, the size of refrigerators, he says. Above ground, they're a "visual blight." Each serves about 1,000 homes. Likewise, 18-inch power supply boxes on phone poles emit a constant hum, he says.

Homeowners also are concerned about utility pole replacement and subsequent removal of creosote, a preservative used on them. The group would rather see utilities put underground. Ashizawa says the company does have the right to construct on existing utilities, under the Telecom Act. He says WINfirst would work with a different setup, if it were constructed through an assessment utility residents are proposing to start if their complaints aren't addressed.

Ashizawa says the neighborhood consists of 95 percent aerial plant — with quite a few of those a double red-tagged for replacement. WINfirst would replace the poles as needed, and be reimbursed by the utility, he says. Each pole would interrupt power for about eight hours, but would not affect phone or cable. Residents are concerned about the proposed utilities interruption — Gray, for example, works at home.

Ashizawa says WINfirst would follow strict guidelines set by the utility company regarding the removal of creosote and on other environmental issues. The poles will be replaced regardless of whether or not WINfirst does it, he adds.

Finally, residents are concerned with Western Integrated Networks' long-term financial stability, and whether it would have the funds to finish the job. Ashizawa says the company has first-tier investors from Wall Street, who specialize in cable and telecom. WINfirst can complete the job, he says.

Ashizawa says the company will meet with residents again next month.

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