Editor’s note: Charlotte Beat is a regular weekly feature in Local Tech Wire.
__________________________________________________________________________________________For businesses, as well as home users, the trend is towards getting Internet, data and voice services from one source. US LEC has embraced that trend.

Charlotte-based US LEC began 10 years ago as a Competitive Local Exchange Carrier (hence the LEC in its name) providing phone service, but has evolved with the times and technology. It is now an integrated voice, data and Internet service provider in 120 markets in 16 states, primarily along the East Coast. In 2005, revenues reached $387.7 million, a 9 percent increase over the 2004 figure of $356.2 million. It has been publicly traded on Nasdaq since 1998.

“We started offering IP (Internet Protocol) in 1999 as an adjunct product, and now all our primary products are IP-based,” said Jeff Blackey, US LEC’s senior vice president of marketing and business development. “Of the 26,000 businesses we serve, more than 20,00 of them are data customers (but may also use other services). It’s a dramatic transformation, and it reflects the way the industry has gone. To be a server, you have to evolve.”

With US LEC, it’s all about bandwith — and the more you have, the more functions it can be used for. But it’s also about setting priorities on what gets through. For example, Blackey noted, a one-second delay in getting an e-mail is not noticeable, but a second-long delay in voice transmission is noticeable — and intolerable for most users.

US LEC’s customer base is medium-sized companies with multiple locations, which US LEC is able to connect with phone and intranet services through one network. Employees can access their e-mail remotely. US LEC can also provide web-enabled teleconferencing (an increasingly popular alternative to face-to-face meetings and training sessions) and web tools to manage conference calls, as well as IP-based data back-up and recovery. The company has also changed the way its corporate data networks are designed, converting from the traditional ‘spoke and hub’ mode to a ‘meshed’ one that improves the scale and survival of the network.

“Businesses can expect more from their service providers than ever before,” Blackey commented. “By using a single provider for all their services, they get more bang for their buck.”

Businesses are recognizing this trend, and last year, for the first time, IP-based phone systems outsold traditional ones. (Using the Internet for phone services is called VOIP — or Voice Over Internet Protocol). Blackey said US LEC provides adaptors to customers who want to use their services but continue with their legacy phone system, but another company provides equipment if a customer converts entirely to IP.

Despite all the growth and changes, US LEC has taken “a relatively conservative approach,” Blackey said, “by not getting caught up in the latest fad” and staying with our business plan.”

However, he added, “We have aggressively evolved to provide new services and provide reliable customer service. Maintaining a balance is the secret to our success.” US LEC has attracted more than $620 million in capital since it inception and currently has $149 million in long-term debt and more than $325 million in deployed assets..

US LEC has never had a layoff or abandoned a market once it entered it. Last year, it expanded its network to Lynchburg, VA and parts of Indiana near Louisville. Medium-sized companies are a good niche for US LEC, Blackey noted, because while out of the box solutions don’t meet these companies’ complex needs, they’re not big enough for many communications companies to offer them the tailored solutions they need.

“Everyone’s sophistication is growing,” he said. “These companies are too big for a canned approach, but too small for a customized one. We consider our products tailored, but if a customer needs them customized, we will do that.”

US LEC does offer a product for small businesses, as well as one for consumers for digital phone service, but has not aggressively market them.

US LEC: www.uslec.com

Innovation Leader Summit Is May 23

The North Carolina Technology Association, the Big Council, Charlotte WISE and UNC Charlotte are sponsoring the ‘Innovation Leadership Summit: The Intersection of Leadership & Technology’ on Tuesday, May 23, 7:30 am — 4 pm, at the Hilton Charlotte Center City. IT leaders from across the state will come together to discuss market opportunities, innovative technologies and the current trends that will directly affect the success of the industry. In addition, the event will offer participants outstanding networking opportunities and excellent high-level speakers. Registration cost before May 1 is $120 for members of NCTA, BIG, the Blue Ridge Entrepreneurial Council and the Charlotte Chamber’s ITC Council and $160 for non-members. After that date, registration is $150 for members and $200 for non-members.

For information: nc-tech.org/news/events-InnovationLeadershipSummit2006.asp

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