That's because $8.5 billion is the amount that Ma Bell pays other telephone companies for access to their networks, thus allowing it to provide communications services to.
Now AT&T has joined the growing number of carriers wowed by WiMax, radio technology that promises to deliver two-way Internet access at speeds of up to 75 megabits per second at long range. What has AT&T and others excited is the low start-up costs for WiMax. Typically, it takes $1,500 to lay underground fiber to a single home; the cost of a WiMax hookup is $75.
"We spent $8.5 billion on local access last year," Eslambolchi said. "I'm going to find any way I can to bypass that as fast as we can."
AT&T plans to begin deploying the technology in 2006.
At the same conference, Charles Hoffman, CEO of, said his company is now testing WiMax equipment from different vendors and has the same intentions at rival AT&T. Covad has already tested a WiMax service in the Kentucky area, he noted.
"We're looking at a 2005 rollout for a commercial service," said Hoffman.
But the plans may prove to be a bit ambitious. Scott Richardson, general manager of Intel's Broadband Wireless Group, said recently thatby 2006, and into handsets by 2007.