AT&T is holding up road projects, municipalities claim

June 19, 2007
Weeks after Indianapolis sued AT&T Indiana for costly delays in relocating phones wire for a road project, Hendricks County officials say the phone company has put them behind schedule and thousands of dollars over budget.

The delays raise questions whether AT&T's ambitious rollout of its "Project Lightspeed" offering of telephone line-based video service to compete with cable television is cannibalizing its technicians for non-lucrative work in the field.

Avon says AT&T has put the city three weeks behind schedule on a roundabout project at County Road 100 South and Dan Jones Road.

That has added about $10,000 to the project, and could add much more if the roundabout isn't completed before winter, said Public Works Director Ryan Cannon.

"We've been calling and begging them to get [lines] out of the way," Cannon said.

Meanwhile, Plainfield's transportation director, Don McGillem, said his town is a good month behind on its Reeves Road project and blames AT&T for falling behind on moving its wires.

Making way for new roadbed and curbs often requires moving telephone poles and underground electrical and phone wire conduit, plus re-splicing wires.

"I can half understand-it's not income-producing for AT&T. It's an expense," said McGillem. However, he noted that using a public right of way saves the phone company money; in return, municipalities expect utilities to respond when it comes time to move lines for road projects.

McGillem said the city and AT&T had several coordination meetings about a year ago, "so they knew the schedule."

"To me it shouldn't be taxpayers who are paying for this."

McGillem said he didn't know what the delays have cost but has asked contractors to keep careful records. Those contractors could be scrambling to finish jobs before winter-driving up overtime costs.

Last week, Indianapolis sued AT&T in Marion Superior Court for alleged delays caused by the phone company amid the nearly $30 million rebuilding of 38th Street. The city said AT&T lines near Central Avenue held up the project and generated more than $650,000 in overtime to contractors.

AT&T spokeswoman Molly Cornbleet said the company is reviewing the Indianapolis lawsuit.

Cornbleet said the company expects to finish the relocation for the Avon project Friday, and that the Reeves Road work will be completed by the June 27 deadline.

AT&T has spent about $500,000 recently on several Hendricks County relocation projects, she said.

AT&T brought in technicians from other states to help with both Project Lightspeed and to help complete routine utility line work, Cornbleet said.

McGillem said AT&T employees have told him that the company is shifting some crews to work on new technology projects. Cannon, who wouldn't divulge his source, said AT&T is diverting workers to bolster Internet capabilities to compete against municipal WiFi systems that have been cropping up.

Although the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission historically had broad powers to regulate phone companies, state phone deregulation in recent years has reduced the amount of agency oversight.
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