Salisbury to test fiber-optic cable system

Salisbury to test fiber-optic cable system


by STUART WATSON / NewsChannel 36
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Posted on August 24, 2010 at 6:00 PM

Updated Tuesday, Aug 24 at 6:00 PM

SALISBURY, N.C. -- One local on-ramp to the Internet just got a lot bigger and lightning fast.

The city of Salisbury begins beta testing of a brand new fiber-optic cable system next month.

Salisbury and North Carolina's Municipal League have overcome strong objections from a powerful state senator, Sen. David Hoyle of Gaston County, who supports the cable companies who say local government competition is unfair.

After the implosion of the textile industry, Salisbury is trying to weave a new future with new fibers; fiber-optic cable.

The town has spent $50 million in bond money to string 250 miles of fiber, 50 miles of it underground. 

The city will provide television, telephone and Internet service at speeds ten times faster than Time Warner's Roadrunner Internet service and AT&T's U-verse.

But Senator Hoyle is not a fan.

"They've been sold a bill of goods by a crowd of consultants who say this is the best thing since sliced bread and mayonnaise," says Hoyle.

The veteran state senator says cities should leave broadband to the cable companies.

"It's not fair for any government unit to compete with private enterprise," he says.

In the last legislative session Sen. Hoyle tried to put a moratorium on any more local governments expanding into municipal broadband.

When the I-Team asked him if the cable industry drew up the bill, Senator Hoyle responded, "Yes, along with my help."

When asked about criticism that he was "carrying water" for the cable companies, Hoyle replied, "I've carried more water than Gunga Din for the business community - the people who pay the taxes."

Senator Hoyle says local governments have an unfair advantage over cable companies because towns and cities do not pay taxes on their cable systems.

But Salisbury and other North Carolina cities have their own powerful ally in Raleigh: the Municipal League, which supports the expansion of fiber-optic cable.

"It's the next modern infrastructure," says lobbyist Paul Meyer. "If we're wrong, the rest of the world is wrong."

Opponents of municipal broadband point to the towns of Cornelius, Davidson and Mooresville which took over a failed cable system, MI Connection, and have lost millions of dollars on it.

But proponents of fiber-optic cable say there's no comparison in bandwidth and service.

"I think this is a different kettle of fish," says Meyer.

Broadband backers won a round in the last legislative session, blocking Hoyle's ban on more municipal broadband while taxes could be studied. 

So Salisbury is expected to take its new system, called Fibrant, for a test run next month and roll it out sometime this fall.

The town promises basic Internet service at 15MB per second at rates ten percent lower than competitors.