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Archive for Thursday, August 3, 1995

FIBER OPTICS MAKES PHONE TOWER OBSOLETE

August 3, 1995

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Placing fiber-optic lines in the ground may change the Lawrence skyline.

Fiber-optic cable snaking across Lawrence is putting the squeeze on a downtown landmark.

Southwestern Bell Telephone crews have finished a three-month project to install 15 miles of fiber-optic communication cable in the city.

Expansion of the network makes the microwave tower in the 700 block of Vermont Street an obsolete piece of long-distance telephone equipment.

Mike Scott, Southwestern Bell external affairs manager in Lawrence, said today that he was open to suggestions for what should be done with the 153-foot tower.

"We need to discuss what to do with it," he said. "We'd like to do something good with it, perhaps a clock downtown."

Linda Finger, the city's planning director, didn't have any idea what might be done with the tower.

"That would be interesting to figure out," she said.

Ken Campbell, president of Downtown Lawrence Inc., said some use could be found for the structure. It's not necessary to dismantle the tower, he said.

"It's not been anything that I felt like was an eyesore," Campbell said.

Rod Bremby, assistant city manager, said the city might be interested in receiving the tower as a gift.

"I'd hate to see the tower come down because it is such an icon," he said.

Scott said the telephone company would likely pull the plug on the microwave tower at the end of the year.

When the brown brick tower was built about 15 years ago, the award-winning design incorporated a grassy area at street level. The plan was to add benches and tables so folks could sit there, maybe for an outdoor lunch.

But that design never made it to construction. Pigeons and starlings loved the shape of the tower, which offered an artificial cave for roosting. But the immense quantity of droppings produced by the flock bothered downtown merchants.

Southwestern Bell tried a number of techniques to eliminate the birds, including recorded screeches, rubber snakes and skin-irritating spray. The winged squatters held firm.

Recently, netting was placed on the tower to block access.

At least the tower's demise as a communication tool was for good reason.

Scott said fiber-optic cable is vastly superior to microwave or copper cable for communicating. Businesses are particularly fond of fiber-optic because a single pair of fibers can carry 32,000 conversations at one time and the fibers are immune to noise and interference.

"The technology is truly leading-edge," Scott said. "No state has better."

Fiber-optic network improvements in Lawrence are part of a $64 million investment in Kansas over the next two years by Southwestern Bell.

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