Improving Infrastructure Comes at a Cost

D A L L A S, Feb. 14, 2001 -- At the corner of Peak and Brian streets in Dallas, progress has come at a price.

Construction crews are installing fiber-optic lines with the promise that they will bring high-speed service for telephones, television and Internet, but the process has been one long headache for area residents.

"It has totally disrupted the lives of people who live in the area, as well as the businesses in the area," says Dallas City Council member Veletta Forsythe Lill.

The neighborhood has been torn up repeatedly, and left an obstacle course in front of Bill Dickerson's antique shop.

"We've had 23 contractors in through here in 25 months doing fiber-optic work," Dickerson says.

Happening All Over the Country

Dallas is not alone. Across the country, the disruptions are everywhere.

"I think it's really terrible, man, because it's holding up traffic," says one commuter.

It's all the result of the federal government's effort to increase competition. Because Congress deregulated the telecommunications industry five years ago, any company that wants to install fiber-optic lines must be allowed to do it by law.

"What started as a small wave has become an enormous wave with, in some cities, over 20 service providers competing for business," says John Ryan, Telecom Analyst at RHK.

It's a management nightmare for cities, and they're desperate to reduce the digging.

"We also have to make sure that they repair what they damage," says Thomas Wendorf of the San Antonio Public Works Department.

Some Cities Taking Action

Washington, D.C. has come up with its own solution — to stop the digging altogether. The city is now banning utilities from cutting into newly paved streets for five years.

And in San Francisco, competing companies must install their cables at the same time.

"Instead of having five or six trenches, we require them to get together and have one trench," says Chris McDaniels of the San Francisco Public Works Department.

City governments, though, are concerned that too many regulations will discourage high-tech development.

"We have to be competitive," says Dale Long of the Dallas Dept of Public Works. "And if this is the wave of the future, then Dallas wants to have this infrastructure in place."

But in the meantime, the message from the industry is simply to be patient — it'll all be over in two or three years.