James Q. Crowe, fiber optic, telecommunications pioneer dies at 74

(UI) – Crowe Company announced that James Q. Crowe, a technology and telecommunications visionary who spearheaded the fiber optic telecommunications revolution, died July 2nd in Paradise Valley, Arizona, after a battle with pulmonary arterial hypertension. In the 1990's, when web pages opened slowly and streaming video over the Internet was not viewed as realistic, Crowe hatched a vision of cheaper bandwidth that would enable video streaming and the robust Internet experience we enjoy today. And he made that vision a reality.

headshot of telecommunications fiber optic pioneer, James Q. Crowe
James. Q. Crowe

As people began to use the Internet, via modems using traditional telephone lines, Jim Crowe saw that the demand for information could be explosive, but data speeds were so low that the experience was limited. At the same time, new fiber optic technologies and Internet protocols made vast cost reductions possible, but only if demand were high enough to justify the needed investment. Crowe saw an opportunity.

Rather than have data move over traditional telephone networks, he envisioned voice, data and video moving over a revolutionary new kind of network using fiber optic and Internet technologies. "A network for the eyes rather than for the ears" was how Crowe described it.

Crowe formed Level 3 Communications in 1997 with exactly this vision. Together with his parent company, Omaha-based construction giant Peter Kiewit Sons', and Kiewit Chairman and Crowe mentor Walter Scott, Crowe raised $15 billion to construct a totally new network based upon the newest technologies and optimized for the Internet.

They dug trenches and buried multiple conduits to carry optical fibers across the United States and parts of Canada, digging 16,000 miles along streets and railroads, installing electrical and optical equipment all along the path. They also built a similar network across Western Europe. Level 3 brought bandwidth costs low enough to stimulate explosive growth in the Internet. Early Level 3 customers such as Facebook and Netflix, among many others, took advantage of these lower costs to create the rich Internet experience the public knows today.

In 1986, Mr. Crowe he was recruited by Peter Kiewit Sons'. His group's construction work laying optical fiber underground for clients led Crowe to propose, then lead, Kiewit's push into fiber optic telecommunications. Crowe launched MFS Communications, the first company to bring robust local competition to the Baby Bells via fiber optic communication technology. He took MFS public in 1993 and built it rapidly into a Fortune 500 company, before it was acquired by WorldCom in 1996 for $14.3 billion.

A year later, Crowe founded Level 3. He was joined by a number of executives and engineers who had worked with him at MFS. His vision and generous nature attracted a loyal following, including but not limited to former MFS employees. American industry has many former Level 3 executives in leadership positions, virtually all of whom regard Jim Crowe as a major figure in their lives.


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