Williams Communications Group is quietly putting together the pieces that may someday create a region-wide fiber-optic network.
S. MILLER WILLIAMS' EXPERIENCE IN Latin America runs deep. As a teenager in the 1960s, he traveled with his father who built pipelines through South America for Tulsa-based Williams Cos. In the early 1990s, he hammered out an operating agreement with the Cuban government for the then-Williams WilTel subsidiary to create a fiber-optic link between Havana and Miami (a proposition later squashed by the U.S. State Department). Over the last several years, he's helped negotiate investments in telecommunications companies in Chile, Brazil and Mexico.
The 48-year-old company offspring may be about to dive in deeper. As senior vice president of the international division of $1.7 billion (1998 sales) Williams Communications Group, Inc., he is quietly putting together the pieces may someday create a region wide fiber-optic telecommunications network.
The company certainly has the wherewithal to make such a move. Last October, it spun off from its oil-and-gas parent, raising $680 million in an initial public offering (IPO) on the New York Stock Exchange--one of the largest such offerings of the year. The deal attracted the likes of Baby Bell-turned-giant SBC Communications, which invested $425 million for roughly 4.25% of the company (with the right to buy up to 10%), chipmaker Intel, which invested $200 million for more than 1.5%, and Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim Held, whose telephone company, Telefonos de Mexico (Telmex), invested $100 million for less than 1% (with the right to buy up to 10%).
Legendary pipe. Williams also has the expertise. How an oil-and-gas company got involved in the telecommunications business has become something of industry legend. In 1985, when its parent began replacing parts of its pipeline network in the United States, a bright engineer suggested that instead of selling the old, narrow pipe as scrap, it should string telephone line through it, which would cost half as much as doing it from scratch. Williams Cos. went on to build a fiber-optic network that stretches 21,650 miles from New York to California, providing voice, data, Internet and video services to communications service providers. With the proceeds from the IPO, it hopes to reach 33,120 miles connecting 125 cities by the end of 2000.
While the company has become known as the only player in the world with a complete fiber-optic...