Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Making the Connection Florida East Coast Busy Building Fiber-Optic Network

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Making the Connection Florida East Coast Busy Building Fiber-Optic Network

Article excerpt

A hundred years after Henry Flagler built a railroad to connect North and South Florida, the company he started is busy building a telecommunications network to connect the state.

The Florida East Coast Railway, originally built by Flagler, runs 351 miles from Jacksonville to Miami through some of Florida's largest population centers.

"Our railroad runs through the middle of concentration of people up and down the coast," said Robert W. Anestis, chairman and chief executive officer of Florida East Coast Industries Inc., the railroad's parent company.

"The opportunity that creates for non-rail things is extraordinary," he said. "The most obvious of the non-rail opportunities is fiber optics and telecom."

The railroad has had fiber-optic communications lines running along that 351-mile continuous stretch of land since the mid-1980s, leasing the space to well-known telecommunications companies like AT&T. But since Anestis took over the company this year, Florida East Coast has been looking to develop fiber-optic opportunities more aggressively and offer telecommunications services itself.

"We realized we had an opportunity to go beyond just the passive leasing," Anestis said.

The company formed a new subsidiary in May called FEC Telecom Inc. to develop a communications business.

"We're starting small, but we can get this thing big quite quickly," said John McClellan, president of FEC Telecom.

Florida East Coast isn't just using its rail lines along the east coast of Florida for its fiber-optics business. It has reached agreements with other rail lines that allow it to run a fiber-optic loop through Orlando, Tampa, Sarasota, Fort Myers and Naples.

That telecommunications loop reaches 13 of Florida's 15 largest cities and 73 percent of the population, basically all of the state except the Panhandle.

"We now have what we call the Florida footprint," said Anestis.

Florida East Coast is putting the finishing touches on the loop, which runs a total of 780 miles and contains 12,600 fiber miles.

The company hopes the continuous loop will give it a competitive advantage in providing businesses with telecommunications services. The loop allows users to transmit messages without interruption throughout Florida.

"If there is any service interruption, this system restores itself automatically," said McClellan.

The railroad right-of-way is a natural place to lay fiber-optic lines. Not only does it offer a long, continuous path, but it also has the infrastructure in place to get around obstacles in the way, such as bridges over rivers. …

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