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Avista will enter local fiberoptic fray

Avista Corp. plans to expand its Rogue Valley presence by offering fiberoptic line installation in Medford.

The Spokane, Wash.-based conglomerate is best known in the region as a natural gas provider. However, the company has 10 distinct divisions -- including Avista Utilities -- that loosely revolve around the energy business. It is a Fortune 500 firm with annual revenues of more than $5 billion.

Avista Communications, formed in 1996, provides local dial tone data services and high-speed Internet access to commercial customers in cities with populations of less than 250,000. It has fiberoptic networks in place in Spokane and 11 Montana cities.

The communications company has announced plans to built fiber networks over the next three years in 30 cities -- including Medford. On Tuesday, it also announced plans to build high-speed networks in two Washington cities, Bellingham and Yakima.

While it is offering phone, data and high-speed Internet services to business customers in other cities, the company will offer only fiber connections initially in Medford, leaving customers to buy services over that fiber from other vendors.

Spokeswoman Nancy Goodspeed said the company will start with the fiber installation and consider adding the other services if it makes financial sense in the area. For example, the company launched a similar fiber installation service in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, and has since announced plans to add data services over those lines.

For now, the company will offer fiber installation only in Medford, the first Oregon city where the company has launched such services. Goodspeed declined to discuss potential expansion into other Oregon cities, including others in the Rogue Valley.

The expansion is part of Avista's efforts to diversify and build a more national presence. And branching into the fiberoptic and telecommunications business has proven successful for other energy companies.

There's a huge value that comes in installing fiber networks, says Goodspeed. If you control the fiber, you control the ability of business to grow in the future.

Many companies are constructing fiber networks (including Falcon Cable and the city of Ashland locally), raising questions of how financially viable it is for each to build and maintain its own network. But Goodspeed says individual companies are demanding control of their own networks and are convinced that it will pay off.

We think we will definitely get return on our investment, she says.