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By Tim McElgunn
Sept. 4— The city of Salisbury, N.C. is ready to become the first U.S. city deliver 10 Gbps service to all of its households and businesses, in a move that could be ahead of its time.
The city hopes to leverage the ubiquitous advanced network to lure new businesses to the town — but residential demand for such massive bandwidth lies farther in the future. Still, Salisbury will be a test case for other small cities looking to establish such a network in competition with private network operators, sometimes against states' wishes.
After five years of building out its city-wide fiber network and launching gigabit services last year, the municipally-owned and operated Fibrant is now ready to offer the highest city-wide speeds available in any U.S. community.
While even a house full of teenagers would find it impossible to fill a 10 gig pipe, many of the town's existing businesses are interested in the Ethernet-powered service. , “As America's first 10 gig city, our community has an edge in economic development,” Kent Winrich, director of broadband infrastructure for Fibrant said in a statement. “Fibrant is helping our existing businesses grow and attracting new companies to Salisbury.”
Consumer awareness of ultra high-speed services helps increase interest in— and subscriptions to—lower speed offerings, a dynamic that's demonstrated in gigabit deployments across the country. Fibrant sells symmetrical 1 Gbps service for $105 a month and offers 50 Mbps symmetrical speeds for as little as $45 per month, when bundled with video, and voice.
The Federal Communications Commission issued a decision in March preempting North Carolina and Tennessee state laws that hinder municipal broadband networks. The agency focused specifically on networks deployed in Wilson, NC and Chattanooga TN. The FCC's order also affects 17 other states with laws in place to restrict or prohibit deployment of municipally-owned broadband networks that would compete with private enterprise. Municipalities argue that incumbent operators are not willing to invest in network upgrades, leaving residents and businesses without access to state-of-the-art infrastructure.
North Carolina sued the commission on constitutional grounds in May, challenging the agency's authority to preempt state law. Because Fibrant was in place before the original state law was passed, it is not directly impacted by the case.
Fibrant is deploying Calix, Inc. equipment to enable its gigabit services, focusing first on providing with enterprise grade applications, such as Carrier Ethernet services for data centers, medical, and educational institutions.
Beginning next year, Fibrant says, it will expand 10 Gbps services to small to medium businesses and residences, leveraging Calix Passive Optical Network (PON) technology.
Fibrant's first customer for a 10 gig connection is Catawba College, a private school based in Salisbury.
Other enterprises headquartered in the town include Food Lion Supermarkets and soft drink maker Carolina Beverage Corporation.
Salisbury was among the early municipal gigabit projects and was underway in 2010, before the North Carolina legislature passed its law banning such deployments.
AT&T Inc. and Time Warner Cable Inc., among other companies, backed the North Carolina law. The operators, along with Frontier Communications Inc. and Google Fiber are deploying gigabit or, in the case of TWC, 300 Mbps services in the Triangle region of the state. When those networks are operational, the Triangle region will be among the most competitive in the country.
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