Baby Bells to twist fiber together

Three usually bitter-rival carriers--BellSouth, SBC and Verizon--say they will cooperate on the fiber-optic expansion of their networks.

BellSouth, SBC Communications and Verizon Communications are reaching new levels of cooperation as they begin building fiber-optic networks directly to homes and offices.

On Thursday, the three telephone companies announced they have agreed to use the same types of fiber-optic hardware and software in the expansion of their networks. The carriers plan to use these higher-speed connections to homes and offices to sell new services, including cable television.

Beginning in June, the three usually bitter rivals will also together solicit and review equipment suppliers' proposals, a Verizon representative said Thursday. BellSouth, SBC and Verizon will then "make decisions about which technology is best to proceed with, and pick common vendors," the representative added. Final decisions about where, when and how to build will be made by the individual companies.

The cost-cutting move is an example of the new cooperative spirit between three of America's four major telephone companies, all struggling to keep their financial footing in an increasingly competitive market. The cooperative efforts have their roots, somewhat, in the networks' being built jointly by certain cell phone providers, many owned by the telephone companies themselves.

By doing much of the legwork together, the carriers save money. Equipment vendors, notified of the arrangement on Thursday, also know what to begin tinkering with as they work on their proposals to submit, the Verizon representative said.

"It's a little unusual, (the) set-up, but anything goes now in telecom," said an executive at one major telephone equipment supplier expected to make a bid on the contracts.

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