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Focus: Richmond gets wired. (Regional Report East).

If Richmond Power & Light sounds like any plain vanilla municipal electric company, think again. Behind the prosaic name stands a powerhouse of information technology called Parallax Systems. Parallax offers all the sophisticated communications services you would expect such giants as Verizon, AT&T and Sprint to deliver.

Businesses, schools, professional people and individual households in this eastern Indiana city no longer have to sign up with some remote multinational provider for their networking needs. Parallax can deliver Internet dialup, commercial bandwidth, even Web hosting and design. And because Parallax is local, it offers person-to-person support and advice to subscribers.

But what is an electric company doing in the Internet business? Of Indiana's 72 municipal electric utilities, RP&L is the only one doing it. David Osburn, RP&L's general manager and CEO, can explain.

"One reason is diversification," says Osburn. "There is a growing trend across the United States for utilities to look for other services they can offer their customers. It seemed like a natural path for us to take."

Besides that, Osburn adds, "We felt that Richmond was really not up to par in its telecommunications offerings. We knew we could step in and provide what was really needed."

During the past 15 years, RP&L has strung 45 miles of fiber-optic cable throughout the Richmond area. With the infrastructure in place, RP&L approached the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission two years ago for permission to get into the business of e-business.

In September 2000 the IURC approved the application. Immediately, RP&L created its Parallax Division and purchased a local Internet service provider last April, giving RP&L a starting customer base of nearly 2,000 members. At the same time, the utility installed powerful new servers enabling Parallax to provide a very high bandwidth network, suitable even for videoconferencing.

"We have a state-of-the-art, metropolitan network, as good as you find in any city," Osburn notes.

Parallax is focusing its high-bandwidth fiber-optic system on the business, medical, government and education sectors. "We will be laying the additional 40 miles of fiber-optic cable strategically so that we can serve any business in the community," says Rich Cody, manager of the telecommunication division.

Cody adds that Parallax is in the process of becoming a Tier One provider. "It's a status that gives us the latitude of not having to go through a lot of phone company switching networks," he points out, "I think we can compete against Verizon, AT&T or Sprint in terms of price and service." Parallax promises to string fiber-optic cable into any business and offers bandwidth ranging from 128 kbs to a T-1 line that can pipe 1.544 megabits per second.

Renee Oldham, director of Main Street Richmond-Wayne County, thinks RP&L's decision to jump into the telecommunications business was "absolutely brilliant."

"We are a relatively small community. It would have taken us forever to get this kind of infrastructure if we waited for the private sector to do it. But here you have a public utility, which can spread the costs around, stepping in and helping the private sector. This network helps reposition us for the New Economy marketplace."

RP&L's network offers unlimited possibilities, says Oldham, who turns on her own imagination as to what some of those might be. "It means you can build those so-called electronic Smart Houses in Richmond; that's something you see only in big cities. So you have a unique quality-of-life feature for our community." Oldham also envisions huge potential for Richmond's medical community. Reid Hospital & Health Care Services and all the medical offices and clinics along Chester Boulevard and elsewhere will be able to do live conferencing, share medical records and images with each other--or other medical facilities in the world for that matter.

Diane Roberts, vice chancellor for academic affairs at Indiana University East in Richmond, is chair of the Economic Development Corporation of Wayne County. She says RP&L's communications division will soon be a major attraction for new businesses to locate in Richmond.

"The service is a great alternative to what else is available," Roberts says. "RP&L provides a bandwidth that some operators can't offer, and there is a greater flexibility of service that can accommodate industry, business, governmental units and the nonprofit sector."

All of Richmond's schools and higher-education institutions are hooked into RP&L's fiber-optic network and are working together to find educational uses for the system. That's why WayneBrain--a consortium of RP&L, all secondary schools, IU East, Ivy Tech and Earlham College--was created a few years ago.

"The school corporations have been getting together to talk about what their needs might be in terms of educational content," Roberts says. "When they report to us--WayneBrain--we'll see which institution can provide a particular need."

Wes Miller, director of media services at Earlham, represents the college on the WayneBrain board. "As an example, a Japanese-language class at Earlham could be broadcast directly to screens in a classroom at Richmond High School," says Miller, adding that the possibilities for educational services on the network are limitless. "Our imaginations will have to meet the technology that is now in place or coming."
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Title Annotation:Richmond Power and Light, company services information, CEO David Osburn
Comment:Focus: Richmond gets wired. (Regional Report East).(Richmond Power and Light, company services information, CEO David Osburn)
Author:Holden, Richard
Publication:Indiana Business Magazine
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Mar 1, 2002
Previous Article:Eastern Indiana update: Top business stories. (Regional Report East).
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