'Teleport' proposal would make Power Plant a communications center


March 03, 1991|By Leslie Cauley

In a business section story in yesterday's Sun, a quote was mistakenly attributed to Anand Kumar, chief executive officer of the Washington teleport.

In discussing security at teleports, Phil Freedenberg, executive vice president of Federal Engineering Inc., Fairfax, Va., said, "If 00 it's a real working teleport, you have technicians around moving satellite dishes across the sky, and they can't put up with having tourists looking over their shoulders. I'm not sure what there is to be gained by having a lot of tourists running around."

Is Baltimore, a city heretofore best-known for its port, steamed crabs and the Orioles, ready to become a part of the global village?


A group of corporate giants, led by Westinghouse Electric Corp., apparently think it is.

In February, city officials disclosed that a team that includes Westinghouse, American Telephone & Telegraph Co., International Business Machines Corp. and James Rouse's Enterprise Development Co. are working on a plan that calls for ** development of a "teleport" -- a high-technology communications and distribution center -- in the vacant Pier 4 Power Plant at Baltimore's Inner Harbor.

According to an early draft of the proposal, the team hopes to equip the 90-year-old structure with satellite dishes, microwave towers, fiber-optic cabling, production facilities and teleconferencing rooms.

In addition to being a supermarket of world-class telecommunications services, the "Information Power Plant" might house entertainment and amusement centers for the general public, according to the early draft.

Proposed entertainment projects for the complex include the "Global Village Dance Club," a disco with two-way, large-screen satellite hookups to dance clubs around the world, and the "Out of This World Lounge," envisioned as a high-tech watering hole with robotic bartenders, laser-light shows and hologram concerts.

David W. Gillece, acting head of Center City-Inner Harbor Development Inc., the quasi-public agency that oversees Inner Harbor development, said a final decision on the fate of the Power Plant won't be made for some time.

But he said the idea of setting up a teleport in Baltimore is an engaging possibility. "The teleport concept is intriguing in and of itself, apart from what facility it might go in," Mr. Gillece said.

Though it may be "intriguing," is it realistic?

According to some industry experts, the idea of establishing a teleport in Baltimore isn't far-fetched -- but it does pose some problems.

For starters, it isn't clear exactly who would use such a facility in Baltimore, a city known more for its international shipping than for global communications.

Dean G. Popps, president of the Dallas/Fort Worth Teleport, said that teleports are expensive to set up and maintain and that some cities just can't generate the business to justify the expense.

"No matter how glitzy a waterfront development you have, the business base has to be there or you won't be able to make a go of it," Mr. Popps said.

As some cities have already found out, not all businesses need, or are willing to pay for, fancy high-tech communications services. Teleport projects in Columbus, Ohio, San Antonio, and Vail, Colo., fell flat after business failed to materialize.

Successful teleports seem to have certain characteristics in common.

According to Frost & Sullivan Inc., a consulting company in New York, most of the nation's 60 working teleports in 1989 served major metropolitan areas from outlying locations that tend to be free of structures that can interfere with satellite transmissions. Remote areas, unlike downtown locations, also tend to offer more room for expansion.

Even more important than location is having a built-in customer base, the common denominator of most successful teleports, said Robert Catlin, general manager of the New York Teleport.

Mr. Catlin said successful teleports tend to be in markets with an expanding need for international communications, electronic video feeds and high-speed data transmissions. Markets where needs are local or regional -- as opposed to national or international -- tend not to fare as well, he said.

"I don't think it fits everywhere because there's not a need for it everywhere," he said.

Richard Gonzalo of the World Teleport Association on Staten Island, N.Y., says simply, "It's a matter of, if there is a market, you build a teleport; if there isn't, you don't."

Those markets have varied considerably.

The New York Teleport, for example, caters to Manhattan's voracious appetite for international communications services emanating from Wall Street and the legions of broadcasters there.

The teleport, which is on Staten Island, offers high-speed data and video transmissions to and from the teleport, and among the major business centers of the region, while a satellite communications center allows customers to transmit information to and from points worldwide.

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