JEFFERSON CITY _ While the major communications companies have been spending bundles lobbying and advertising about their desires to expand in digital-communications, a small St. Louis company positioned itself to become one of the dominate players.
Digital Teleport Inc. (DTI) has been aggressively laying fiber optics cable along Missouri's major highways as part of a long-term plan to develop state-wide telecommunications services such as distance learning, tele-medicine, and video teleconferencing.
In 1992, the Public Service Commission (PSC) approved DTI President Richard Weinstein's bid to provide service as a competitive telecommunications company.
With PSC authorization, this summer the company was awarded a bid by the state Highway Department that gives the company special access to highway property throughout the state for fiber lines.
Since then DTI has invested about 70 million dollars on a fiber optics network that could soon affect many Missouri citizens.
"Our bid (to the Highway Department) was unique because we offered to build a network throughout the state and we asked for authorization from the PSC and spent a year working with them," Weinstein said.
"He's ambitious and he's got a lot of good ideas," said Public Service Commission Chairman Al Mueller. "But it takes deep pockets to put in this kind of a system. So far he's breaking records about getting this kind of a system in the ground," said Mueller, who chairs the utility-regulating state agency.
DTI's contract with the Highway Department is for 40 years. Under the contract, DTI has the authority to install and maintain fiber-optic cable along Missouri's major interstate highways and some non-interstate roads such as Highway 63 south from Columbia to Jefferson City and Highway 54 south of Jefferson City to Camdenton.
In exchange for giving DTI a special authorization to dig along Missouri's major highways, the Highway Department gets exclusive rights to six strands in DTI's fiber-optic cable.
Highway Department Attorney Greg Schaeder said DTI's proposal was attractive for several reasons. "This is a no-cost plan. Digital didn't pay anything for the rights, but they're installing 6 fiber optic strands reserved exclusively for the highway department," Schaeder said.
A single strand of fiber optics cable can carry up to 20,000 conversations. The Highway Department plans to use these lines to develop a cutting-edge traffic management system called Intelligent Vehicle Highway System.
"It's ultimately designed for computerized cars so that sometime in the future you will be able to tell it where you want to go and it will take you there," Schaeder said.
For the immediate future, the Highway Department plans to use the system for traffic monitoring that will help detect and study developing traffic problems. Under a mandate from the federal government, the Highway Department soon must implement this kind of system or it will lose federal funding.
DTI has also closed a major deal with Union Electric, which plans to use DTI's lines to communicate between various UE power plants that supply power throughout Missouri.
Mueller said DTI represents the kind of open-market competition recommended by the Commission on Informational Technological.
The commission, composed of private and government representatives, issued an extensive report earlier this year on recommendations for government's role in digital communication.
It's recommendation would give the PSC authority to monitor telecommunications companies in order to change Missouri's telecommunications market from a monopoly to an open market.
"We have to manage that market and manage the competition in that market so that we can gradually introduce total competition in the communications market," Mueller said.
Mueller said DTI's facilities could also give economic developers an opportunity to sell high-technology services that they are currently not able to sell in Missouri.