State seeks telecommunications help Private firms urged to trade services

August 06, 1993|By Thomas W. Waldron | Thomas W. Waldron,Staff Writer

Maryland officials want to trade thousands of miles of the state's highway rights of way for new high-tech telecommunications services. The problem is they don't know how to do it.

Yesterday, state officials turned to the private sector, asking representatives of 35 companies for help.

"What we're looking for today is for you to help us see what kind of asset we're putting on the table," General Services Secretary Martin W. Walsh Jr. said at a Baltimore meeting.

"We right now don't know exactly how to implement it."

The Schaefer administration recently announced that the state is willing to trade rights of way along some 5,400 miles of its highways to one or more companies interested in laying fiber-optics cable around the state.

Officials now want to find out just what telecommunications services, or even cash, companies would be willing to give in exchange.

State officials say they do know the fiber-optics network must be able to accommodate at least one project -- an upgrading of the state's traffic-monitoring system.

Mr. Walsh said officials would meet privately with companies to solicit advice and ideas.

The state will use the comments from company representatives as a guide for writing a formal project description that would be put out for competitive bidding, perhaps in four or five months, he said.

The idea, while interesting, is still vague, said several company representatives.

"We're very excited about the project," said Robert Eide, sales director for MFS Network Technologies, an Omaha, Neb.-based fiber-optics company that has provided phone service for some Baltimore companies. "We think there's all kinds of opportunities here for the state."

But, Mr. Eide quickly added, "At this point it's a little early to tell how this is actually going to work. There's a lot of details yet to be discussed."

Maurice B. Tose, president of TeleCommunication Systems, an Annapolis-based fiber company, said only a few major companies could handle a statewide project.

His firm, however, would be interested in a piece. "We're looking very much at the potential of laying fiber for one of the legs," Mr. Tose said.

It is too early to know whether Chesapeake & Potomac Telephone Co. of Maryland is interested in the state's rights of way, said company spokesman David A. Pacholczyk.

C&P and administration officials recently announced an agreement in which the company will build a fiber-optics link to every high school and public college in the state.

Only a few states -- perhaps as few as three -- now have policies allowing fiber-optics cables to be buried in their highways' rights way. The federal government, which has resisted the idea because of safety concerns, has given Maryland tentative approval to move ahead with the project, according to state and federal officials.

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