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Fast Forward: Clark McLeod, OpportunityIowa

Quick talk about what's next

In November, Clark McLeod, the founder and former chairman and CEO of Iowa-based CLEC McLeod USA, announced his latest project: OpportunityIowa, a grass-roots non-profit aimed at educating Iowans on fiber to the premises (FTTP) and convincing them to create municipal communication utilities — if for no other reason than just to keep their options open. He discussed its goals with Telephony's Ed Gubbins.

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On FTTP and OpportunityIowa: The larger service providers in Iowa have categorically stated they are not putting in FTTP, and there's no need for it. We want both private industry and municipal options open. But quite frankly, unless private industry steps up to FTTP right now, it's up to municipalities to drive that issue in the state. In Iowa, we know the municipal model works because we have 20 municipalities providing services at rates far below the incumbents'. We at OpportunityIowa have said a network that's open to multiple carriers is the right model. However, all we want citizens to do today is vote on a municipal communications utility. Once that group is put in place, that commission will look at the alternatives. In the worst case, we have one good triple-play provider coming in providing low-cost, high-quality service. Once they form their commissions, these communities will be inundated by vendors that wish to provide them alternatives. In the case of our for-profit company, Fiber Utilities of Iowa, we believe there's a need for a provisional utility management company that can manage multiple fiber utilities. An aggregation of communities into economic clusters of interest is part of our overall strategy. Fiber Utilities of Iowa formed in January 2004. Its first mission was to fund OpportunityIowa. Currently all the FUOI employees are working for OpportunityIowa. FUOI will be put together in 2005 in expectation of doing work in '05 and '06. I'll be the CEO, and we will have a president and COO added to it.

On Iowa and telecom's future: Iowa is a massive exporter of young talent. We have one of the best educational systems in the country, but we lose 9000 college students a year. We're not a base for information technology-type jobs, but we could be. Communication infrastructure is a root question that has to be answered relative to the future of this state. Are we going to have 21st century infrastructure? We want the state of Iowa 10 years from now to be recognized as having the best 21st-century communications infrastructure in the U.S. To do that, it will be a combination of public and private efforts. Private companies are going to have to find out where they fit in. If the big utilities just want to resist that kind of deployment, that's their prerogative. But I've got to tell you: A telecom company that's not interested in providing 21st-century services on 21st-century infrastructure — maybe their whole mindset is wrong for this century.

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