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Interview

Los Angeles Telecommunications: Wiring LA

Eric Bender, President of Wilshire Connection, tells the history of developing downtown LA into a global communications hub

Downtown Los Angeles is among the most densely connected telecommunication hubs in the world. A dozen buildings in LA's city center house the world's largest Internet networks, telecommunication carriers, content management networks, and entertainment companies - interconnected through a complex mesh of submarine fiber optic cables, terrestrial cables, and internet exchange points.

With more than 500 networks and carriers operating within the LA city center, one company stands out from the crowd as a leader in bringing the global telecommunications and Internet community together. Eric Bender is president of Wilshire Connection, a facility-based carrier focusing on providing neutral, high capacity fiber optic cable interconnecting the most important buildings in Los Angeles.

Wilshire Connection (WilCon) has a vision to free the LA telecom and Internet-enabled community from the burden of developing a highly meshed inter-building infrastructure, allowing each company to focus on bringing value to their global network interconnections and relationships. Eric Bender, President of Wilshire Connection, is the man behind WilCon's dramatic success in wiring Los Angeles.

This interview will cover, in a multi-article series, the history of modern telecommunications in downtown Los Angeles, the role Wilcon played in LA's redevelopment, the period of rapid and chaotic build out prior to the Democratic National Convention in 2000, the risk of high density telecom infrastructure, and the future vision of Eric Bender and Wilcon.

Laying Down Telecom Conduits and CablePacific Tier: Today we have Eric Bender, President of Wilshire Connection. Eric, can you tell us a little about yourself, and how Wilcon came around?

Eric Bender: Sure, we founded Wilcon, Wilshire Connection back in 1998. I am one of the founders and one of the partners, and have run the company pretty much from the beginning. I'm a real estate guy by background. I graduated from college and have always worked in the real estate field, whether its commercial property, management, brokerage, home build, whatever…

Back in late 1996 I started working for a Hong Kong based family which was acquiring some office buildings in downtown LA, one of which was 611 Wilshire Blvd which was directly across the street from One Wilshire. Back at that time telecom deregulation had just been passed, the 1996 Deregulation Act, and there was a boom of CLECs formed and started. Nextlink, the precursor to Level 3 (Kiewit and Sons), MFS was expanding into a variety of things, Worldcom, a variety of these companies were just starting up in that time frame.

For a lot of different reasons One Wilshire had become kind of a focal point for telecom, primarily because it is a 30 story building, had very clear line of sight to the east, and back in the day when microwave transmission was the primary factor, (One Wilshire) had great eastward pointing microwave capabilities. And because of this many of the deregulated companies had got into One Wilshire.

Because our building 611 Wilshire was directly across the street, and only 50% occupied, and One Wilshire was still an office building that only had a meet me room component to it, - that was really it, from a real estate side of things we said "we have all the space, you have all these new companies coming and can't do it, send them over to us, we'll fill our building with them, and let's put some conduit between the buildings together as a virtual extension of (the meet me room) of One Wilshire.

Additionally we put in some conduits that the One Wilshire building actually provided for.

A year or two later we had bought, and were converting other buildings in downtown (700 Wilshire, 818 W. 7th St.) and saw a need to have those buildings connected back to 611 and One Wilshire.

Standing on the street corner thinking about it we decided that we should become a facilities-based carrier. We went and got our authority from the state to become a carrier, CLEC, and I can't remember the other authorities we received. Then we decided that's how we are going to do it. We started digging the streets building the network and connecting the buildings, our own buildings, together.

We decided as a way to fund the build out, because at the time, 1997 and 1998 a lot of buildings had empty space in downtown LA, they all saw what was happening not only with our buildings, but other buildings that had empty space, and saw how telecom was taking massive amounts space. And the reality was landlords wanted telecom companies as tenants because they paid higher rent, they paid for their own improvements to build out their space, they paid for their own utilities, the buildings did not have to provide janitorial, nor provide much in the line of services.

So we created, as part of our model with Wilshire Connection, the ability to connect all these other buildings into our network. This tied them back to One Wilshire and all these other telecom buildings. And that was our methodology of raising funds to build our improvements to our infrastructure.

Pacific Tier: So what role do you believe Wilcon played in the development of downtown LA as a telecom center?

Eric Bender: Well, trying to be as modest as I can, we probably played the primary role in that, because, several buildings are telecom buildings today because we were building our network and including them. They may have become a telecom building in some way differently, but the fact that we connect them into our network which covers and ties all the building together on a neutral basis was really the instrumental part, including 600 W. 7th St, 800 Hope, 818 W. 7th St., which has Level 3's gateway, Equinix, and others – brought these buildings back to One Wilshire and to each other – together they became the success that they are.

Pacific Tier: What was your criteria for selecting the buildings that you POPed (built a point of presence) or entered, or dropped cable?

Eric Bender: We were note really picky. At the time we were building the network it depended on which buildings came to us, what they were willing to contribute to the cost of (build out), and how important it was to them to be connected to the network.

Pacific Tier: The actual process of laying conduit in downtown Los Angeles, did the city support you?

Eric Bender: Not initially, it was quite challenging. Part of it was because a lot of this activity was new and we were building our network, planning our network to cnnect the buildings. But you had the other companies that were building their networks, such as Level 3, MFN (actually they came a bit later), MCI was adding a lot more conduit and buildings, and others. The city was not prepared, I don't think, from an engineering perspective and plan check to deal with all that, so they were backed up, and you had companies like Level 3 which was building a network throughout the entire city basically.

The city's engineering department that reviewed the plans – you would go in and the entire office would be stacked four, five , six feet high with plans of what they were planning to build. And it took months and months, 6 to 8 months at times.

This is the end of part 1 of our interview with Eric Bender. Additional segments to the interview will discuss the actual buildout of Wilscon's network prior to the Democratic National Convention in 2000, the risk of having such high density infrastructure in downtown Los Angeles, and future plans for Wilcon and Eric Bender.

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John Savageau, Long Beach

You can listen to the entire interview online at Pacific Tier

More Stories By John Savageau

John Savageau is a life long telecom and Internet geek, with a deep interest in the environment and all things green. Whether drilling into the technology of human communications, cloud computing, or describing a blue whale off Catalina Island, Savageau will try to present complex ideas in terms that are easily appreciated and understood.

Savageau is currently focusing efforts on data center consolidation strategies, enterprise architectures, and cloud computing migration planning in developing countries, including Azerbaijan, The Philippines, Palestine, Indonesia, Moldova, Egypt, and Vietnam.

John Savageau is President of Pacific-Tier Communications dividing time between Honolulu and Burbank, California.

A former career US Air Force officer, Savageau graduated with a Master of Science degree in Operations Management from the University of Arkansas and also received Bachelor of Arts degrees in Asian Studies and Information Systems Management from the University of Maryland.

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