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Editorial: Speeding to the future

Enthusiasm for Salisbury’s planned fiber optic cable system will spread quickly once Internet users realize how fast this system is projected to be.
How does 100 megabits per second sound? That’s the broadband download speed the city will offer residential users, according to Mike Crowell, the city’s technology services manager. Compare that to Time Warner’s “turbo charge” version of Roadrunner, advertised at 10 megabits a second. And the city will offer an even higher level of service ó 1 gigabit per second ó to businesses and others who want it. That is incredibly fast.
If the city can live up to those speeds and keep charges reasonable, historic Salisbury will leap into the future.
To put this in perspective, the average broadband download speed in the United States is 4.9 megabits per second. A recent Wall Street Journal report said the United States was falling behind in Internet speed, with at least 14 nations averaging faster speeds. Japan topped out the rankings at 63.6 megabits per second; South Korea was second at 49.5. What does that mean, in layman’s terms? The Journal offers this comparison: “It takes a little over two minutes to download a movie on iTunes in Japan, compared with almost half an hour in the U.S.”
During the market study phase of Salisbury’s fiber optic project, representatives of some of the area’s biggest businesses said they could make good use of the greater speeds, according to Crowell. Smaller businesses said the greater bandwidth would help them grow. More focus groups will be meeting in the next month as the project moves forward.
Speed costs money, of course, and Salisbury has decided it wants $30 million worth. That’s the projected cost of setting up the network. Users will also have to pay monthly charges, to be announced.
It seems unnatural for local government to go into competition with private enterprise, such as Time Warner. Some cable and telecom providers in other parts of the country have filed suit against such projects, saying they’re an improper use of taxpayer money and unfair competition. But when will any company offer that kind of speed in the small city of Salisbury? Countries like Japan and South Korea are ahead because their populations are densely concentrated in small areas. Not so in the United States. The only way a city like Salisbury can make substantial progress is to take its fate into its own hands ó unless local providers step up and offer similar speeds.
Not all municipal Internet efforts succeed. The city should inspect and re-inspect its plan for mistakes or unforeseen consequences. The price overrun on East Fisher Street improvements and the city’s retreat on annexation have made the public wary. If it works, though, the project holds out great possibilities for the city and its Internet users.

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