Fiber optic cable installation means future is now for Salisbury utilities
By Mark Wineka
When Mark Parr, project manager for Atlantic Engineering Group, looks at Salisbury these days, he slices it into 68 pieces of pie.
But Parr is more broker than baker.
He’s the man leading AEG’s yearlong effort to design and build the underground and pole-to-pole network necessary to launch the city of Salisbury’s $30 million fiber-optic cable utility.
By next year at this time, Salisbury hopes to have built a “head-end” facility on South Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue and have the infrastructure in place to run 250 miles of fiber-optic cable to some 15,000-plus potential customers.
Each one of Parr’s 68 areas in Salisbury will have a LCP (Local Convergent Point) cabinet, which looks a lot like a mini-refrigerator.
“It’s almost poetic in the simplicity of it,” Parr said Tuesday, describing how a LCP works.
Some 18 fibers from the city’s head-end location will go into each LCP cabinet, where they can be split out to send fiber-optic cable to 288 homes, businesses, churches or schools in that particular section of town.
At first, each cabinet will have about 260 splits, so room for growth is built into the system.
Since March, AEG has been installing conduit underground in neighborhoods such as the Crescent, Hidden Creek, Country Club Hills, Woodfield and areas off Majolica and Harrison Roads.
But eventually most of Salisbury’s fiber-optic cable will be strung from Duke Energy and AT&T utility poles ó some 6,600 poles in the city alone.
The underground work was easier to address first because AEG doesn’t have to coordinate with the other “residents” on poles such as Duke Energy, Time Warner Cable and AT&T. The time-consuming challenge for AEG in Salisbury is all the poles it will have to “make ready.”
Poles get crowded, and many lines will have to be shifted on the poles to make room for Salisbury’s presence.
But once the “aerial construction” starts, Parr said, it goes pretty fast.
Parr is a veteran of several municipal broadband installations. AEG, based in Braselton, Ga., has done 19 government projects in the country so far. Some of those places have included Tullahoma, Tenn.; Grant County, Wash.; Lafayette, La.; Bristol, Tenn.; Clarksville, Tenn.; and Dalton, Ga.
Last December, Salisbury City Council awarded AEG a contract worth $11.7 million to install the fiber-optic cable network that will be made available to every home, business and institution in the city.
AEG set up shop in the old Dolly Madison plant off Ryan Street, and the company has about 30 people living temporarily and working in Salisbury now.
That number will peak at 120 or 130 later this year, Parr said.
Broadband Services Director Mike Crowell said the “beta” or pilot testing of the city’s network for television, telephone and Internet services will happen next spring or early summer when about 100 “friendlies” are identified.
Those volunteer consumers will give things a test run for six weeks to two months, monitoring new television channels as they are added and seeing how the telephone and Internet services perform. All this will be done before anything is rolled out to paying subscribers.
Crowell said some neighborhoods already have offered to be part of the beta testing.
In underground applications, Salisbury will be pulling its fiber-optic lines though 1-inch and 2-inch conduit to give the cable better protection. The fiber-optic cable itself is being produced by Draska, a N.C. company based in Claremont.
Parr used a pocketknife Tuesday to slice open an end of a cable in the warehouse, revealing colored tubes inside.
Each of the tubes held 12 individual fibers having the thickness of a strand of hair. Yet its these tiny fibers city officials believe hold important promise for Salisbury in the 21st century.
“The more people know about it, the more excited they’ll be to see it come to fruition,” Parr predicted.
Crowell said the eventual rollout of Salisbury’s fiber-to-the-home system will depend a lot on how soon the head-end facility can be built on the 4.5-acre site at Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue and Harris Street.
He said that $3.6 million building will be constructed in phases with a computer room for all the head-end equipment coming even before offices.
Grading has yet to begin on the site, which also will house a new customer service center.