Around the State- Northwest- Aug. 2000
A tiny Internet service provider battles giant Sprint over new high-speed access.
By Julie S. Bettinger
Jim Hunt admits it's a common joke these days among his business associates, who ask him, "Haven't you ever heard of choosing your enemies?" Hunt, CEO of a 12-employee Internet service provider, has filed a federal antitrust lawsuit against industry giant Sprint-Florida, accusing it of blocking his efforts to offer high-speed Internet access.
Industry experts say the lawsuit is the first of its kind in the nation and predict a series of legal battles will follow, as smaller firms that rely on phone company lines seek to expand in the booming high-speed data transmission services sector.
"The battles being waged against the local (phone) companies have focused on voice service," says telecommunications attorney Floyd Self, a partner with Messer Caparello & Self. "You have not had a lot of carriers focusing'' on digital subscriber lines (DSL).
Hunt's company, ElectroNet Intermedia Consulting in Tallahassee, provided high-speed Internet access via a digital subscriber line as early as 1997. But according to the suit, Sprint began various stalling tactics -- requiring special certification and an interconnection agreement, delaying equipment installation and providing unreliable network maps -- to keep ElectroNet out of the market until Sprint itself was ready to offer the same service in February 2000.
And when Sprint was ready to roll out its own DSL service in February, ElectroNet learned that Sprint was offering five-day installation, while averaging 17 days for ElectroNet's customers.
When ElectroNet sought a preliminary injunction in June, Sprint agreed to some concessions -- providing ElectroNet the same turnaround time for hookup as Sprint's customers and offering more timely answers on service availability.
Though the complaint has not been brought before the Public Service Commission, which regulates telecommunications, spokesperson Robby Cunningham says, "The Telecommunications Act of 1996 opened up a whole new world of issues that people couldn't have anticipated. As with any new technology, kinks need to be worked out." As new technologies emerge, he says, there is likely to be an increased need for clarification.
"Our goal all along has been to bring high-speed Internet access to the community -- and we were pioneering in doing it," says Hunt.
Until clearer standards are developed to prohibit phone companies from calling the shots, "It's a ripe issue for the courts," says Hunt's attorney, Tom Findley.
In the current environment, monopolies are holding back the development of better technologies by their barriers, Findley says. "If technology is going to advance, it is going to be assisted more by smaller innovative companies than the larger monopolies."
In the News
Bristol -- The state Department of Juvenile Justice created 70 jobs when it hired Children's Comprehensive Services to house moderate-risk juvenile offenders. Eighty juveniles will be housed in the former Liberty County Intermediate Care facility, once used to care for the mentally retarded.
Cantonment -- International Paper, the world's largest forest products company, completed its $7.3-billion buyout of Champion International. Champion, with 1,000 employees, is one of the area's largest employers.
Chattahoochee -- Florida Department of Corrections officials said that a recently opened geriatric work camp also will house younger criminals. The River Junction camp, which opened in June, will eventually hold about 400 minimum- and medium-security prisoners. The new camp will mean about 90 jobs for the area.
Lloyd -- The U.S. government and the state Department of Environmental Protection have awarded funding for a $5.8-million public water system that will serve Wacissa, Waukeenah and other outlying communities. Developers had been trying to get funding for five years.
Marianna -- Sykes Enterprises agreed to build a 42,700-sq.-ft. call center in the Marianna Industrial Park in exchange for a $4-million incentive package ["Take It or Leave It," July 2000, www.FloridaTrend.com]. The center will create 500 jobs.
Alliance Laundry Systems is planning a $3.8-million expansion of its facility in Marianna Industrial Park. The company, which manufacturers commercial laundry equipment, employs 350 and expects to add another 100.
Monticello -- The Jefferson County Planning Commission has its hands full as businessman Ken Smith goes up against the butcher, the baker and the candlestick maker, better known as the Lloyd Community Preservation Trust. Smith is opposing the trust's effort to limit commercial and industrial uses near the historic district to trades that existed between 1840 and 1920. Planners hope to reach a compromise between the two warring parties in the coming months.
Panama City -- Florida State University's Panama City campus will offer five full-time, daytime undergraduate programs and several master's degree programs this fall. Since its start in 1982, the branch has been a night campus. FSU will use more than $1 million the Legislature allotted it to double the number of faculty at the campus.
Tallahassee -- Datamaxx Applied Technologies recently broke ground on its 34,000-sq.-ft., $4.8-million corporate headquarters in the new Southwood community. The company will consolidate offices now scattered in three locations. Datamaxx information technology is used by 70% of the local, state and federal law enforcement agencies in North America.
White Springs -- Panther Creek plans to build a $4-million, 22,500-sq.-ft. water bottling plant at the head of White Springs. The startup company expects to begin distributing White Springs Natural Spring Water by next January.