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Telecom Work nears on second cross-border fiber optic link



Telecom: Expanded Network Will Speed Up S.D.-T.J.Communications

The design for a second fiber optic link across the border into Tijuana has been completed and approvals to make the connection possible is expected in about two months.

Cox Communications and Mexican cable company Cablem & #225;s activated the first fiber optic connection through San Ysidro in April 2000. The second link will go through Otay Mesa, providing a ring of fiber optic connectivity which Cox anticipates will increase reliability.

Cox and Cablem & #225;s have been working together for seven years on the U.S.-Mexico Interconnect Project. The fiber optic links provide high-quality television signals, high-speed data connections and high-speed Internet access.

The connection from Cox is facilitated by fiber optic cable from the San Diego Super Computer Center at UCSD into Tijuana.

The connection is uplinked from Tijuana to Mexico City by the Corporaci & #243;n Universitaria para el Desarrollo de Internet, a consortium of Mexican universities.

The first line was operational in time for Channel 4 San Diego to broadcast the San Diego Padres season opening baseball game, establishing Cablem & #225;s as Channel 4’s first international affiliate.

Originally, the focus was to provide better video quality, but as Cox and Cablem & #225;s began to offer other services, such as high-speed Internet access, those purposes were added, according to Steve Gautereaux, vice president of network management for Cox.

“Cox was the only one (running cable) down to the border at the time and Cablem & #225;s were the only ones offering video service in Tijuana,” Gautereaux said.

Enhanced video quality was necessary for television channels on both sides of the border. For instance, the signal for the Fox affiliate in San Diego, XETV, is transmitted from Mexico.

Gautereaux said it took seven years to break ground for the project because no one had ever tried to do it before. A set of procedures and approvals was not already in place. The U.S. Department of State required a presidential permit before allowing work to begin.

Presidential permits are required for construction and maintenance of facilities linking the United States with a foreign country.

Approvals were also needed from other agencies, such as the Border Patrol and local historical societies and environmental agencies. The lead agency for the project was the International Boundary and Water Commission.

Once final approvals were received, the actual bore across the border began about a week later. Within a month, the first Padres’ game was transmitted.

Broadcasts of Padres’ games have been popular in Tijuana, said Luis Manuel Rodr & #237;guez Beristain, manager of Internet business for Cablem & #225;s. The Padres work regularly with Cablem & #225;s each baseball season on upcoming promotions. Interviews with members of the baseball team are beginning to be transmitted to Tijuana.

After the line was successfully activated to transmit video and data, Gautereaux said Cox and Cablem & #225;s asked the Mexican government for permission to provide phone service on the fiber optic line, a service Cox already provides in San Diego County. That permit has not been issued yet.

Cablem & #225;s, the second largest cable company in Mexico, has four franchises along the border, which Cox anticipates connecting with in the future, Gautereaux said.

“We think it’s going to be big business and connect both communities,” Gautereaux said.

Currently, Cablem & #225;s has 6,000 to 8,000 Internet service subscribers and 40,000 cable customers. The company has many residential customers and is trying to expand its commercial customer base, Rodr & #237;guez Beristain said.

The links Cox has provided into Mexico are offered to the Mexican cable company at a discounted rate because of the companies’ partnership, Gautereaux explained.

Users of the links between Mexico and the United States are residential, commercial and educational. Government links are expected as well.

At one point in the process, Cox was working with former San Diego Mayor Susan Golding on plans for a video-conferencing link between the mayoral offices in San Diego and Tijuana. Those discussions have not yet been taken up with current mayor Dick Murphy.

Eric Frost is a professor in the geology department at SDSU and co-chairman of the committee at the university working on establishing a better connection with Mexican universities.

He said SDSU has been working for many years to establish a link with two universities in Ensenada, Universidad Autonoma de Baja California (UABC) and Centro de Ense & #324;anza T & #233; y Superior Universidad (CICESE).

“The ability to work electronically with them was very attractive,” Frost said. The geology department at SDSU has worked for many years with the earth sciences group at CICESE, a research university.

“The Internet of a few years ago was inadequate to do teaching,” Frost said. “As geologists, we’re trying to send big files back and forth. The files gagged the lines.”

Other departments at SDSU and at UCSD are also interested in improved connections with Mexican universities.

Eventually, Cox anticipates that maquiladoras will be able to have point-to-point connections between their facilities in Tijuana and San Diego.

Gautereaux said, “It will save them money and make their plants more efficient. With point-to-point video-conferencing, they can (visit plants across the border) online.”

According to Alejandra Mier Teran, executive director of the Otay Mesa Chamber of Commerce, “You have to have wireless service or a T1 line to have high-speed Internet access. There are a lot of companies (in Otay Mesa) that send information to their counterparts in Tijuana.”

The Otay Mesa Chamber is working with Cox, a member of the organization, to promote the second fiber optic link to Otay Mesa businesses.

“My understanding is that it will provide a more affordable option,” Mier Teran said.

Gautereaux said the Cox business services group will most likely set prices below the price offered by other types of Internet service providers.

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