SALISBURY, N.C. Julianne Goodman is cutting the cord, and dropping her cable TV service.
We did have TV, she says. Now we re switching to Netflix.
Goodman lives in an upscale neighborhood in Salisbury, and she has a choice that few people in North Carolina have. She s switching from Time Warner Cable to Fibrant, a fiber-optic network built, owned and operated by the City of Salisbury. Fiber-optic broadband networks send information using pulses of light, while traditional networks use electric signals sent over copper wire. Fiber networks like Fibrant are much faster as a result, with speeds that are hard to match and capacity that s hard to bog down.
Businesses love us because we don't restrict them on uploads, says one Fibrant worker. So when they want to send files, it's practically instantaneous.
Fiber-optic networks are in fashion at the moment. Charlotte and Raleigh are two of nine cities across the country that could get Google Fiber, which promises upload and download speeds of one gigabit per second, which can be ten to a hundred times faster than speeds offered by traditional non-fiber carriers like Time Warner Cable and AT&T. Both cities have to submit checklists to Google by May, and could find out by the end of the year if Google will actually build out a fiber-optic network.
But Salisbury has had fiber-optic service since late 2010. Our citizens asked for high speed internet, says Doug Paris, Salisbury s city manager. We met with the incumbent providers [like Time Warner and AT&T, and that did not fit within their business plans.
So Salisbury s city council voted to spend upwards of $33 million to put more than 250 miles worth of fiber in the ground to make high speed internet available in all parts of the city. Paris says the result was a higher credit rating for the city, and also says the fiber network helped lure a tech company, Integro, into building a new headquarters downtown. The company s average wages are $75,000 a year, twice as high as Salisbury s average household income.
We have the infrastructure that metro cities like Raleigh and Charlotte desire, says Paris.
Currently, Salisbury and Wilson are the only cities in North Carolina that built their own fiber networks. A state law passed in 2011 at the behest of Time Warner Cable keeps other cities from following in their footsteps.
Fibrant also offers TV and phone service and financially, it s expected to break even this year. But last year, Fibrant lost $4.1 million. As a startup, it s normal for the first couple of years to not break even and to not make a profit, says Paris. The first two quarters of this year we ve turned a profit.
Salisbury s service is competitive with Time Warner Cable and AT&T on price, but it s not always the cheapest option. I don t like to compete on price, says Mike Jury, Fibrant s general manager. I don t think it s a fair thing to compete on, because Time Warner is much bigger than we are. We truly compete on reliability.
City leaders say over the last 14 months, Fibrant has been up and running 99.99 percent of the time, but that wasn t the case early on. At one time, just about every other week or two, somebody would say, Oh we've been out for a couple of hours, says Steve Mensing, who runs the Rowan Free Press, a blog that s been critical of Fibrant. The reliability issues have been largely fixed, but Mensing says Fibrant can t complete with other companies when it comes to cable TV and phone service.
Fibrant s fastest speed is one gigabit (1,000 megabits) per second, while its slowest speed is 20 megabits a second. That s more than most people need, says Mensing. The average consumer doesn't require a whole lot more than 10 to 20 megabits to get what they need to get done, he says.
Still, Fibrant is hard to bog down, even when an entire neighborhood is using it. Think of it as a pipe, says Jury. Our philosophy is about the pipe. The pipe coming into the house. You can offer whatever services are coming in the future, he says. We have a really fat pipe.
And having a lot of capacity and speed is important for the future, says Jury. It s a lesson he learned by watching his kids. They do a lot of streaming, he says. That's really the next generation. And that's where the future is going. And this network is designed to support that kind of streaming capability.
Nearly four years after it was built, Fibrant now controls a fourth of the market in Salisbury. That s right where Paris says it should be. Competition is beautiful for the consumer, he says. And it's something that got Goodman to switch. She's the first one of her friends to do so. Time Warner is expensive, and Fibrant is a local business in Salisbury, and we wanted to support the local economy, she says.