Deregulation: Bonanza Or Bust?

The Telecommunications Act of 1996 vowed to break up communications monopolies and spark competition. Here's how you can take advantage of a multibillion dollar industry.

With a degree in education. Colvin worked as a consultant to the Hillsborough County public school district, teaching children who had communications disorders. When the local school system applied to get its share of’ a $30 million grant the state of Florida had set aside to retrofit its schools for the digital information age, Colvin stepped up to the plate, She began talking with school officials about their technology needs.

“I saw an opportunity to provide a service because they were starting to integrate technology into the classroom,” says Colvin. “So I took some courses at the University of South Florida in engineering and got involved in some telecommunications trade organizations.”

While it sounds almost too good to be true, Colvin utilized her expertise in education-knowing what teachers and administrators wanted and students needed–while upgrading her own skills to make her bid. “My knowledge of education was my inroad. I had written grants and gotten scholarship money for students (while teaching) by getting the business community involved. I also spent time talking with teachers and administrators to determine what they needed, and I brought my passion for education and children. I wasn’t just there to get a contract,” explains Colvin, who thinks those were the measures that set her business apart from larger service providers.

Today, Colvin, offers consultation and installation services. “We provide not only voice and data engineering and wiring, but also intercom and security systems wiring,” she says, “We talk with their architects and engineers and are pretty much a part of their team in terms of looking at their five- and 10-year projections about how technology will be used.” The company also provides maintenance services to the school system.

With 12 employees and nearly $1 million in revenues, the six-year-old firm also provides engineering and structured wiring systems for telephones for a number of clients including Tampa Electric Co. and its parent company, TECO Energy. It is also a master contractor for Sprint and Lucent Technologies, which automatically gives it access to upcoming projects for bidding, and is on the national vendor list for GTE.

Like Colvin, many small business owners are providing telecommunications services in the educational arena. According to a 1995 report, School Facilities: America’s Schools Not Designed or Equipped for the 21st Century, about 75% of the nation’s 80,000 schools do not have the physical infrastructure necessary to support new learning and communications technologies. Based on these and other findings, the Clinton Administration has made a push to have all schools wired by the year 2000 (See “Reading, Writing and RAM,” March 1998).

Last year, the FCC created the Universal Service Fund as a way to connect the nation’s schools and libraries to the information superhighway. A $2.25 billion fund, it pays for the communications infrastructure (i.e., wiring, Internet access, and local and wide area networks) of schools and libraries nationwide. The fund has also increased opportunities for small business owners.

So for small businesses that can offer a quality, cost-effective product or service, bringing classrooms up to technological

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