Areas of Canoga Park, Reseda, Sherman Oaks, Northridge, Van Nuys, Calabasas and Hidden Hills have been targeted for Pacific Bell's Los Angeles roll-out of a high-speed fiber-optic network that will bring customers everything from phone and cable television services to movies-on-demand, video catalogue shopping and video research libraries.
The San Fernando Valley is one of four metropolitan regions throughout the state that will be wired for the new services between 1994 and 1996. This will be the initial phase of Pacific Bell's plan to spend $16 billion building a statewide fiber-optic network.
Pacific Telesis Group, Pacific Bell's parent company, will begin by connecting 1.5 million homes over the next three years in parts of Los Angeles, Orange County, San Diego and the San Francisco Bay Area. Another 3.5 million households will be wired by 2000.
The initial Valley beachhead will be part of the Reseda area, where 45,000 households will be wired with fiber-optic cable next year. By 1996, when all the targeted Valley areas are connected, 250,000 homes in the Valley will be capable of receiving the new phone and video services.
For the Los Angeles metropolitan region, a large swath of the Valley was chosen for the first part of the network in part because of its high concentration of homes rather than businesses, and because much of the area has phone wires running on poles above ground. Rewiring underground is far more expensive.
Other factors that figured into Pacific Bell's decision were relatively high disposable-income rates in the Valley area and a large cable television subscribership, which indicates a more receptive audience for the new services, said Steve Harris, vice president of external affairs for Pacific Bell's broadband services division.
The phone company also looked at age levels and how much time people living in these areas spend at home, Harris said, in order to determine who might be more likely to want video and interactive services. "If people spend a lot of time at home and have a high disposable income, they'll probably want to order movies," Harris said.
Another important criterion for deciding which communities to go into first was competition; in other words, which markets are being targeted by rival cable companies for similar services and whether Pacific Bell believes it could get there first.
Beginning next year, the first Valley residents in the project will be able to receive video services over their phone lines. Pacific Bell is hoping to find cable operators or other companies to deliver the video services, which will be much like the cable television services area residents can now subscribe to. This could bring competition between cable companies for the first time in certain areas.
By the following year, their phone services will be transferred to the new fiber-optic network. And in 1996, they will have available a wide variety of interactive data and video services.
Pacific Bell hasn't yet decided which areas it will target after 1996.
Pat McChesney, manager of Pacific Bell's broadband services in Los Angeles, who will head up installation of the network in the Valley, said the fiber-optic lines will offer many advantages over the old copper phone wires. Fiber is cheaper to maintain and is capable of carrying far more information at a much faster speed.
One 3/4-inch-thick fiber-optic wire, for instance, can transfer 750,000 phone conversations simultaneously. That wire would replace 54 copper cables capable of carrying just 14,400 conversations at once.
Although no deals have been announced, Pacific Bell said it is negotiating with many potential providers of services over the new phone lines. It will be up to each provider to determine how much to charge for their services, although McChesney said phone service rates shouldn't change.
Using a hand-held device resembling a television remote-control unit, customers will be able to punch in their choices picked from menus. If a customer wants to shop for fly-fishing equipment, for instance, he would call up the channel for home shopping and then follow the prompts on the TV screen to get to the catalogue he wants.
Or, say a customer wants to do research on the Holy Roman Empire. That customer would enter the channel number for a library of educational videos, then follow a series of commands to come up with the precise subject matter.
"Once these communities see the potential of these networks, this is really going to take off," said McChesney.