The Black Hole

By eweek  |  Posted 2001-06-04 Print this article Print

The Black Hole

Tim Alderman, a microwave engineer who spent 25 months at ICGs office in Oakland, Calif., was laid off late last year. He told Interactive Week he had what some might consider "the perfect job — if all you wanted to do was sit in an office with your feet on your desk.

"Most of the time I was there, I never had assignments. But I made it part of my job to try to keep track of the companys microwave equipment," he said.

ICG was, at the time, selling off its satellite business, converting almost entirely to its fiber-optic networks and focusing increasingly on data traffic. It had lost interest in that aspect of its business, Alderman contended.

Alderman said the company also "lost an entire field of microwave dishes" that were removed from leased property without company authorization. "Maybe it didnt amount to that much money, but the principle was the same," he said. "It was only $30,000 to $35,000 worth of equipment. But they werent even interested in hearing about it." Former ICG investigator Caldwell confirmed that security personnel in Denver were aware of the alleged theft.

Alderman said he also witnessed security problems at a storage warehouse in Denver, where, he said, missing equipment was endemic.

"Equipment was checked out by people who were not authorized to take it, and it never got to its destination." But he said it did little good to complain.

Joe Cedillos, once a senior planner at ICGs Oakland office, said he did not want to go into detail about his experience there.

"Its in the past; Ive moved on," said Cedillos, now operations director at Time Warner Telecom in Walnut Creek, Calif. "But I can tell you this: Time Warner doesnt do business like ICG did. We only hire honest, ethical people here."

Cedillos — whom fellow employees and security officials described as having tried repeatedly to expose corrupt practices at ICG — said he couldnt explain why company officials were not interested.

"All I can say is sometimes there are people in corporate America who are more interested in benefiting from criminal activity than cleaning it up," he said.

Alderman told Interactive Week that his inquiries about inventory problems with regard to satellite-related equipment produced instructions from Denver to conduct audits, which in turn showed that there was unaccounted-for equipment.

"But the reports would go in, and we would never hear another thing about it," Alderman said. "We started to refer to Denver as the black hole. Things went in; nothing came out."

Alderman, who has spent more than 25 years in the telecommunications industry, most of it in satellite and microwave communications, said he also argued with company executives over violation of Federal Communications Commission regulations.

"I brought it up to two executives in charge of regulatory affairs, on several occasions. But they didnt seem interested." Alderman said that seven of 30 microwave "hops" — transmission paths — operated by ICG in northern California were being run, in whole or in part, without licenses from the FCC. Alderman, who was hired as a expert in microwave transmission licensing, said the company had been earning about $20,000 a month from what he called "bootlegging" of each of those hops.

"This had been going on since at least 1994," Alderman said. "It is a serious matter to operate unlawfully on the public airwaves. Fines and imprisonment can be imposed in some cases."


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