While some telecom companies yearn for national or international clout, Telephone & Data Systems sees success in a narrower focus.
“We dont want to run into every regional Bells territory right now,” says Jim Butman, president of TDS Metrocom, Telephone & Data Systems competitive carrier subsidiary, which began operations in 1998. “We are doing it right. We play to win in carefully chosen markets.”
Metrocom follows a grown-from-nothing strategy that also has served its parent company well. In 1969, LeRoy T. Carlson Sr., who remains chairman, bought 10 small, rural Wisconsin companies to form the core of Telephone & Data Systems. Over the next two decades, the company acquired more than 105 primarily mom-and-pop phone companies in about 28 states.
The company, now led by Carlsons son and CEO LeRoy T. Carlson Jr., serves 3.2 million consumers in 35 states. It provides wireline services through TDS Telecommunications, mobile wireless services through U.S. Cellular, and competitive phone, data and Internet services through TDS Metrocom. While most of the corporations revenue — $1.96 billion in 2000 — comes from wireless and incumbent local exchange carrier operations, the Metrocom subsidiary has grown impressively since its 1998 founding. Metrocoms 2000 revenue was $40.2 million, up 121 percent from a year earlier. Its operating loss was $14.4 million, 47.5 percent greater than 1999.
Metrocom launched its competitive local exchange carrier in the college town of Madison, Wis., and then added Appleton, Green Bay and West Milwaukee. It also bought a regional long-distance provider in Minnesota, which it is converting to its CLEC model. In all, it has 130,000 access lines, Butman says, and will grow to 500,000 in a few years.
Metrocoms strategy includes offering both data and voice services to business and consumers.