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Charter starts on east side's fiber optics

Mail Tribune

Charter Communications' fiber optic cable is now unwinding through Medford's east side after being bottled up in the west and south parts of town for months.

Charter's Medford television subscribers who want to add high-speed Internet service - and others simply seeking speedier Internet connectivity - should have it by summer's end.

"We're actually trying to beat our September deadline for construction," Charter's Regional Vice President John Adams said Wednesday. "We're trying to move that into July. We've brought in more resources to get the job done."

The project, which revved up again last week, is about 45 percent finished. Charter's new local general manager, Gary McDonald, said cash flow bogged down the project that began in May 2001.

"We were under the same financial capital crunch as every other company," McDonald said. "Corporate decisions were made, putting capital into systems where they would get the greatest return first. Access to capital has been the greatest obstacle to this thing."

The cable company began its fiber buildout in Ashland in late 1998, then hit Phoenix, Talent and White City before beginning its work in southwest Medford. Charter has 17,843 cable customers in Medford and 917 high-speed Internet clients.

"The west side lent itself more to the project, because it had been recently rebuilt and upgraded in 1995 and '96," manager Dennis Eubanks said. "We had a fair amount of fiber on the west side and bigger capacity for high-speed data transmission."

That rebuild occurred under Charter predecessor TCI's administration.

"East Medford had technology that was a year and a half older and in that year and a half, the technology radically changed," Eubanks said.

The system is essentially the inverse of a river drainage with the largest pipe of fiber coming out of Charter's base and then thinning out the farther it goes.

Eubanks estimated that XL Cable, the Fife, Wash.-based sub-contractor rolling out the cable, will add 50 miles of fiber on the east side.

"The area from Barnett south wasn't budgeted last year, but we were able to come up with other funds," Eubanks said. "We weren't scheduled to begin until this year, but we got to jump ahead."

Eubanks said a crew of 14 is working on the buildout, which moves along at an irregular pace.

"When there's a bad piece of cable in the ground we have to replace. it," Eubanks said. "Most every device hooked into the system has to be changed. Sometimes it comes out easy and sometimes you have to do trenching work. There are a lot of little variables that creep up."

Charter's high-speed Pipeline Internet service (756 kilobytes per second) starts at $39.95 monthly for cable customers. McDonald said there is discussion of creating an additional tier offering 1.5 megabytes per second.

In the near future, McDonald said Charter will provide on-demand program service.

"If you wanted to see episode No. 23 of 'Green Acres'," McDonald said of the 1960s CBS sitcom, "you could see episode No. 23."

Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 776-4463 or e-mail .

Charter starts on east side's fiber optics