By HOWARD FINE
Los Angeles lags far behind its rivals in Silicon Valley and other high-tech regions in the laying of fiber-optic cable, considered key to high-tech growth.
But several L.A.-area cities are moving quickly to change that putting fiber-optic network development on the fast track.
They are being spurred by two main realizations: that the 1996 Telecommunications Act allows cities to generate revenues by getting into the telecom business, and that fiber-optics networks are powerful magnets for attracting high-paying jobs.
"For so long, nobody here did anything to develop fiber-optic networks. Now, people are looking around and saying, 'Wait a minute! We can be like Silicon Valley,'" said Jon Goodman, director of EC2, the Annenberg Center Incubator Project at USC.
Several cities in the region Glendale, Los Angeles, Santa Monica and Pasadena to name a few are pursuing fiber-optic strategies. Those range from building their own networks and leasing out excess space to teaming up with private-sector partners or granting rights-of-way to private telecommunications providers.
"There has been a lot of activity in the fiber arena in the Los Angeles basin, but it has been very scattered," said Bob Cerosoli, chief strategist for SpectraNet International, a San Diego provider of fiber-optic networks. "Now, there is a growing realization that there is a need for broadband service."
The interest among businesses is fueled by a dramatic drop in the cost of hooking up to a fiber network as well as the ever-increasing need to transmit large amounts of digital information.
Entertainment and multimedia companies are heavy users of fiber-optic cables because of their ability to carry digital images that overwhelm the capacity of traditional copper cables.
And those are just the companies that cities nationwide are competing fiercely to attract.
Goodman and other industry experts said that Silicon Valley and other high-tech hotbeds like Austin, Texas and Boston are ahead of L.A. when it comes to fiber-optic networks.
For example, the city of Palo Alto has an extensive "loop" of fiber-optic cable that hooks up almost every business in the city, according to David Rozzelle, a principal at the San Jose-based telecom consulting firm Media Communications Group.
But in L.A. County, fiber-optic networks exist only in limited pockets, such as parts of Burbank, downtown L.A., the Wilshire Corridor, Long Beach and the Westside. In most areas of the county, fiber-optics are only available for major businesses.
While no one tracks the actual number of L.A.-area businesses hooked up to fiber optics, the county's largest telecommunications provider, Pacific Bell, estimates it has laid about 60,000 miles in its L.A. County service territory.
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