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City strikes deal with Duke Energy to place fiber-optic cable

By Mark Wineka
Salisbury Post
Salisbury City Council approved an agreement Tuesday that will allow the city to attach its future fiber-optic cable to Duke Energy utility poles.
Earlier this year, council voted to move forward with starting a fiber-optic cable system from scratch ó a new utility that will offer telephone, television and Internet services.
Start-up costs, to be financed over the next two years by revenue bonds, will be close to $30 million.
Salisbury will pay $5.34 per Duke Energy pole each year. There are some 4,400 Duke Energy poles in the city.
Mike Crowell, technology services manager for the city, said the availability of space on the Duke Energy poles was crucial to the city’s being able to establish the new “Fiber to the Home” initiative.
Most cities that have gotten into the cable business are electric cities. That is, they already provided power for their citizens through their own electric utilities.
Crowell acknowledged that Salisbury may be blazing a new trail because all the other cities he is familiar with that are going with Fiber to the Home are electric cities.
Of the Duke Energy poles, 40 percent have enough room already for a city of Salisbury attachment. Another 40 percent will have to be made ready for the city’s attachment.
The remaining 20 percent of the poles will have to be replaced to allow for the city’s addition, or the fiber-optic cable will have to go underground in those cases.
When Salisbury was developing its business model for the cable utility, it hired Atlantic Engineering Group to do a detailed “make-ready” assessment of the poles and help in the negotiation of a pole attachment agreement with Duke.
“Duke Power has been great to work with,” Crowell said.
Smaller cities such as Salisbury are looking to build state-of-the art fiber networks in which the bandwidth is capable of speeds and capacity many times greater than the cable that runs now to most businesses and homes.
They are afraid of being left behind as cable and telecom companies focus their efforts first on upgrading service in the country’s larger cities.
On Monday, The Wall Street Journal described Chattanooga’s plans to roll out a fiber-optic network bundling all three services to some 170,000 customers. The same story noted how private cable and telecom companies are opposing the municipal efforts. Some cities have abandoned their efforts.
The city of Wilson, after which Salisbury has patterned much of its cable initiative, is rolling out its Greenlight cable system this spring and summer. Salisbury is at least a year behind Wilson in its project.
Mayor Pro Tem Paul Woodson, who strongly supports a city cable system, said Tuesday he was concerned about how Salisbury’s new utility could respond if faced with a major weather event such as an ice storm.
Would the city be prepared to deal with downed lines, given that Duke Energy workers and their contractors would be focusing on restoring power and fixing their own utility lines?
Since Salisbury was not an electric city with its own crews, could it deal with that kind of emergency, Woodson asked.
“Can we get back up and going again?” he said.
Crowell said from his experience, research and conversations, fiber cable is more robust that copper cable and does better in surviving ice. It stays sound structurally, he said.
Crowell predicted city crews could take care of what little damage would occur from an ice storm.
“I just don’t see it being a problem,” he said.
The city already has fiber-optic cable going to 27 different city facilities, and Crowell said he is more concerned about squirrels, which have eaten through cable twice.
Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263, or mwineka@salisburypost.com.

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