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More fiber, please

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  • | 5:37 p.m. April 2, 2009
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Now that US Metropolitan Telecom has put hundreds of miles of fiber-optic cable in the ground it's planning to build even more.

A telecommunications startup in Bonita Springs called US Metropolitan Telecom has already put $14 million worth of fiber-optic cable in the ground.

But the slowing economy hasn't fazed Frank Mambuca, the company's president and chief executive officer. The company recently raised another $5 million from private investors to put even more transmission fiber in the ground.

“We're still in a boomtown,” Mambuca says.

From Mambuca's perspective, business indeed has been good. Although he declines to reveal specific sales figures, he says revenues rose 193% in 2008 compared with the previous year.

US Metro is the only local company in the area that has built its own fiber cables in competition with Embarq and Comcast. There are dozens of other competitors, but all of them resell services from capacity they buy in bulk from bigger companies. US Metro was known as TruWave Networks, a name it adopted for marketing purposes but recently abandoned.

Competitors that have built fiber networks in other Florida metro areas have bypassed the Fort Myers and Naples area, so businesses have little choice on who ultimately carries their transmissions, Mambuca says. A former top executive with Level 3 Communications, Mambuca says the two-county region is “one of the most ignored spots in telecom.”

US Metro sells phone and Internet service to commercial customers only. Customers include some of the largest organizations in the Naples-Fort Myers area, such as surgical equipment maker Arthrex, hospital company Health
Management Associates, ASG Software Solutions, Lee County government and real estate developer Barron Collier Cos. “We currently have 71 buildings lit with customers,” Mambuca says.

Because it controls its own fiber network, Mambuca says US Metro can better determine what it charges customers. It beats Embarq by 10% to 50% on pricing, he says. The economic downturn has forced many phone customers to reexamine their telecommunication costs and Mambuca says that's benefited US Metro.

Embarq officials counter that US Metro is a startup without as long a history as the dominant phone company. “Our network is much more highly diversified and much larger and provides access to more areas with less startup-type of situation,” says Tom Matthews, an Embarq spokesman.

Matthews disputes Mambuca's assertion that the area is underserved. “Our capacity is far more than the area demand,” Matthews says. “It's kind of like saying the area is underserved by churches.”

Embarq spent $54 million in the Fort Myers-Naples area last year in capital investments, Matthews says. In the last decade, the phone company has invested $1.1 billion in the area that stretches from Naples to Port Charlotte.

But Mambuca is undeterred. Before joining this startup, Mambuca was in charge a $350 million annual budget and 2,000 employees for Level 3, a giant telecom company that built the Internet backbone that carries North American and European Web traffic. He oversaw the laying of Level 3's giant fiber-optic cable across the Atlantic Ocean in the 1990s. The 6-foot-5 New York native jokes that he's a “geek trapped in a jock's body.”

Now, Mambuca plans to grow US Metro's business by selling additional transmission capacity to large telecommunications companies such as Qwest, AT&T, Sprint and others. Such wholesale business could account for half of
US Metro's revenues by the end of this year, Mambuca says.

In particular, large telecommunication companies are eager to lease more line capacity for their cell-phone towers because of the increase in video use. That kind of data gobbles up space on transmission lines.
Landing major telecommunications companies such as AT&T as customers also gives US Metro credibility with other prospective customers. “When you're dealing with carriers, they look you up,” Mambuca says.


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