Telecom firm, Washington, still trying to reach cable deal

Tue, 02/19/2002 - 7:00pm
Anne Kerven

Copyright 2002 Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News

Copyright 2002 The Washington Times

The Washington Times…02/20/2002

From LexisNexis

CityNet Telecommunications Inc., the Silver Spring company that uses robots to lay fiber-optic cable in cities, has yet to finalize any agreement with the District of Columbia, despite claims by company executives that a deal would be done by spring 2001.

The company said plans were slowed by the downturn in the telecommunications sector. But, adding to its woes, it must defend itself against one former executive who claims the company misrepresented how far along negotiations with the District and other cities had progressed.

In an interview with The Washington Times last February, CityNet Chief Executive Officer Robert Berger said the company hoped to close a deal by spring. But yesterday, a company spokesman conceded that CityNet and the District were still in negotiations.

"(Spring 2001) was our hope, obviously," said Lee Allentuck, CityNet's director of public relations. "When you talk about these agreements, they are very multifaceted."

Allentuck declined to speculate on when a deal would be finalized.

Libby Lawson, spokeswoman for the Washington, D.C., Water and Sewer Authority, which maintains the District's sewers, said, "We're nowhere near a deal with CityNet or anyone else for that matter. A deal is not imminent."

CityNet has finalized agreements with 13 cities. But fiber-optics have so far been laid in just one city — Albuquerque, N.M. — and the company says it has not yet signed a single customer.

Lauren Shapiro, a former vice president of sales who was fired from CityNet last October, claims in an $8 million lawsuit filed yesterday that the company "fraudulently misrepresented that it had signed, or was on the verge of signing, agreements with a number of major cities for its rights to send its robots into the sewers."

Allentuck said the case has "no merit," and that the company plans to defend itself "vigorously." He declined to comment on the specifics of the case.

Until October 2000, Shapiro had worked for Cable and Wireless, a Vienna, Va.-based technology firm, out of her home office in Phoenix. She was recruited by CityNet, and was appointed vice president of sales.

The lawsuit claims that Shapiro signed onto the company only after CityNet promised it would have agreements with 25 cities in 18 months, including a finalized agreement with the District. The lawsuit also claims that Shapiro's duties, which included attracting customers to use CityNet's cable lines, were made difficult because she was asked to sell products in cities where the company had not yet signed agreements.

"It was finalized with no difficulty whatsoever," said Pat Svacina, spokesman for the city of Fort Worth, Texas, which signed an agreement with CityNet last May. "The negotiations were not an issue with us."

Shapiro was fired in October after levying complaints against CityNet for discriminatory hiring practices, according to the lawsuit. Shapiro's lawyer, Avi Kumin, said a separate lawsuit claiming sex discrimination has been filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.



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