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Faith, other communities want Fibrant option

By Emily Ford
eford@salisburypost.com
SALISBURY ó Casey Mahoney wants Fibrant in Faith.
A proposed law would ban Salisbury from extending the broadband service to half the towns in Rowan County, including Faith.
Mahoney said his church, Faith Baptist, would like faster Internet speeds but canít afford the $20,000 Time Warner Cable would charge to build a business-class circuit for the church.
Church members are not satisfied with DSL service from Windstream, Mahoney said. But itís their only option since they canít afford Time Warnerís price tag, he said.
If Salisbury extends Fibrant to Faith, the church would have another choice for high-speed Internet, said Mahoney, who owns Rowan Onsite Computer Solutions in downtown Salisbury and has Fibrant.
ěWhen you only have one company available in an area, thatís when they can say, ëIt will cost you $20,000 ó take it or leave it,í î he said.
Faith and eight other communities in Rowan and Cabarrus counties have asked a state lawmaker to protect their ability to buy high-speed Internet and other telecommunications services from Salisbury.
Under current law, Salisbury can sell Fibrantís services to any town or city that requests them, according to Assistant City Manager Doug Paris.
A bill coming up for debate in the N.C. Senate would limit the cityís service area for Fibrant to Salisbury and four towns in Rowan County.
Other communities are crying foul.
ěI am disappointed that the General Assembly is giving consideration to taking this right away from us without a single conversation taking place,î Kannapolis Mayor Bob Misenheimer said in an email to N.C. Sen. Andrew Brock.
Brock, a Republican who represents Davie and Rowan counties, has received requests from the Faith town board and the mayors of Rockwell, Landis, China Grove, Granite Quarry, Spencer, Cleveland, Kannapolis and Concord to be included in the Fibrant service area.
East Spencer Mayor John Cowan told the Post he wants his town included as well.
Most of the towns and cities say Fibrant would serve as an economic development tool.
No town has committed to subscribing to Fibrant, but all have said they want to preserve it as a choice for both government and residents.
ěWe strongly request the right to obtain broadband service from the city of Salisbury, should our town in the future want or require such services,î Cleveland Mayor John Steele said in his email to Brock.
Brock is a member of the N.C. Senate Finance Committee, which on Wednesday will hold a hearing on House Bill 129, known as ěLevel Playing Field.î Salisbury Mayor Susan Kluttz plans to testify.
The cable lobby supports House Bill 129 as a way to prevent cities from having an unfair advantage over private companies as they compete for Internet, TV and phone customers.
The proposed law would ban cities from offering broadband services at below cost or using funds from other city utilities, like water and sewer. It also would require voter approval before cities borrow money to launch a broadband network.
Salisbury didnít need the blessing of voters to borrow $35.8 million in 2008, including about $26 million to build Fibrant.
Salisbury and four other cities with networks up and running are exempt from the current version of House Bill 129.
N.C. Rep. Harry Warren, a Republican representing Rowan County, was a hero to Salisbury officials for introducing the exemption.
While Warrenís amendment protects Fibrant from new rules and restrictions, it also limits the service area to Salisbury, Spencer, East Spencer, Rockwell and Granite Quarry.
Warren said heís taken some heat from Fibrant critics who thought his proposal expanded Fibrant or forced the four towns to buy services from Salisbury.
ěThis restricts their market area,î he said. ěIt does not require anybody in that market area to buy Fibrant.î
Warren said he would have defined an even larger service area for Salisbury, to ensure the city can sign up enough customers to pay its debt. But bill sponsors wanted to restrict Fibrant to inside the Salisbury city limits.
ěIn order to get bill sponsors to agree to certain concessions, one of the things we had to concede was market area,î Warren said.
Salisbury officials said they were pleased with Warrenís amendment. As the Senate begins debate, Paris, the assistant city manager, said the exemption for Salisbury is secure.
Brock said he wants to know more about the amendment and Fibrantís charter. Senators ěwill take a fine-tooth comb to the legislation to make sure itís best for everyone,î he said.
Brock pledged to protect Salisburyís ability to pay its debt and said the city should not be penalized for doing something legal.
In Granite Quarry, a communications tower and satellite dishes on Alís Knob receive signals for Fibrant. Fiber optic lines are already in place that go directly to Salisbury, Mayor Mary Ponds said.
ěWith a local bankís data center located in the heart of our community, it is very important that have cutting edge services to retain this type of business,î she said in her email to Brock.
If Salisbury can install Fibrant without any cost to the town or disrupting downtown businesses, Spencer alderman Jeff Morris said he would consider voting for an agreement between Spencer and Salisbury.
ěI can see a positive impact for having some competition with the current Internet providers,î Morris told the Post.
But the town should treat all providers the same, he said.
ěIf we do it for Fibrant, we should do the same for AT&T, Time Warner, Windstream, or any other Internet competitor who seeks to provide high-speed internet services to Spencer,î Morris said.
With the Spencer Public Library renovated and reopened, Mayor Jody Everhart said he would like Fibrant as an option when the town chooses an Internet provider.
ěI just like competition,î Everhart told the Post.
Whether any town eventually strikes a deal with Salisbury remains to be seen, Rockwell Mayor Beau Taylor said.
Preserving that possibility is what matters now, he told the Post.
ěIf weíre not on that bill, we ainít going to be considered at all,î Taylor said.
Contact reporter Emily Ford at 704-797-4264.

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