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Rio Rancho May Boot Azulstar

By Sean Olson
Journal Staff Writer
    Wireless company Azulstar has plans to completely redevelop and update its technology in Rio Rancho, but it may be too little, too late for the company to save face with city officials.
    A May 11 letter sent by city contracts administrator Steve Ruger to Azulstar highlights a laundry list of complaints about the company's service in the community.
    The letter gives Azulstar 45 days to fix numerous city complaints or Rio Rancho will terminate a 2004 license agreement allowing Azulstar to operate on city property.
    "Azulstar's slow response in fulfilling its commitments and customer service obligations to date has made it increasingly difficult to expect that these objectives will be satisfied," Ruger's letter states.
    The letter points to slow deployment of technology— no upgrades have been made since the network was first installed, nor have permits for placement of some Azulstar equipment been obtained— and inconsistent service for Rio Rancho residents.
    Steve LeVeck, Azulstar vice president of corporate development, said his company's presence in Rio Rancho thus far has helped it realize the capabilities of wireless technology.
    Now the company can use its knowledge to do a major upgrade to its system, which has already begun, LeVeck said.
    If the city is willing to cooperate, he said, Azulstar can move past the complaints in the letter and do wonders for the city.
    "Those issues are administrative and operational," LeVeck said. "We can fix those."
    The license agreement, signed in October 2004, allows Azulstar to place equipment needed to operate a wireless network on city property and right of way. In return, Azulstar must provide eight free hours of Internet service a month for any person inside Rio Rancho city limits.
    The network is designed to provide high-speed Internet access to computers with wireless capabilities.
    Four points in the letter are demonstrated to show a breach of contract by Azulstar:
   
  • After two years, Azulstar has yet to install complete coverage in Rio Rancho city limits.
       
  • Rio Rancho has spent $60,000 to retrofit street lights and other city property to accommodate Azulstar despite the license agreement calling for the wireless company to provide for those costs.
       
  • Azulstar has yet to obtain a "blanket cell tower permit" that is necessary in a Rio Rancho city ordinance.
       
  • The city was notified in April that insurance coverage on Azulstar's network had expired. The company is required to keep a $1 million policy at all times.
        On top of the breaches in the license agreement, the letter has other complaints.
        Inconsistent coverage, poor customer service, improperly installed equipment and an outstanding debt of about $30,000 owed the city for services Azulstar did not perform are all in the letter.
        LeVeck said a new plan and new personnel at Azulstar would improve every aspect of the company's presence in Rio Rancho.
        But it will take more than 45 days to fix everything stated in the letter, he said.
        Still, with reforms on the horizon for Azulstar, it would be in the best interests of Rio Rancho to stay the course with the license agreement, LeVeck said.
        "This is a communication utility that has begun an evolution," he said.
        Announcing new capabilities such as surveillance, emergency services communications, public safety and traffic applications, LeVeck said Rio Rancho would soon be very happy they bought into Azulstar's municipal program early.
        He said some issues with the city could be fixed immediately, such as proving Azulstar has an insurance policy. Others, such as the outstanding debt, would take some communication with the city to overcome.
        LeVeck said he would like to go before city councilors and discuss the situation.
        "We have faith and are committed to the success of the program," he said.
        City officials aren't the only ones unhappy with the service Azulstar has provided thus far.
        Rio Rancho resident Dave Bagley canceled his Azulstar service last week.
        Bagley said two years of inconsistent service and increasingly poor customer service led to his decision.
        "Overall, I had mediocre service as a customer," Bagley said.
        Problems with Bagley's service would arise as often as monthly. When his service had been cut off for three days and local technicians said they didn't know what the problem was, Bagley canceled his subscription, he said.
        "The customer was an irritant to the company, and that's too bad," Bagley said.
        LeVeck did not have immediate access Saturday to the number of subscribers in Rio Rancho.