Alderman wants Spencer to vote on Fibrant
By Emily Ford
SPENCER — With a bill regulating city-owned broadband systems on the governor’s desk, a Spencer alderman wants to ask voters if the town should partner with Salisbury to expand Fibrant.
House Bill 129 went to Gov. Bev Perdue Tuesday. If she signs it, the law will allow Salisbury to expand Fibrant to most of Rowan County, as long as town aldermen, county commissioners or school board members approve.
Fibrant is Salisbury’s new broadband utility.
Spencer Alderman Jeff Morris said Tuesday town leaders should consider putting a non-binding referendum on November’s ballot to determine if residents want Fibrant as an option for Internet, cable TV and phone services. Fibrant competes with private companies.
Morris said while he is willing to consider a Fibrant expansion, he has “seen a public outcry of people who are dead set against it.”
“Before our board makes a decision, it would be wise to seek guidance from our voters,” he said.
Alderman Scott Benfield said he is concerned the town might lose cable franchise fees from Time Warner Cable if Spencer partners with Salisbury. But others said the town already is losing franchise fees to the state.
Morris said town staff could research the issue.
Alderman Delaine Fowler said she’s interested in learning more about Fibrant.
“Competition is good,” she said.
Fowler said Spencer needs the latest technology to move into the future. Staff should explore what Salisbury would propose in a Fibrant expansion, she said.
“The ball is in Salisbury’s court as to how they look at expanding,” Alderman Reid Walters said.
Mayor Jody Everhart defended his decision last month to send a letter to N.C. Sen. Andrew Brock, a Republican who represents Rowan and Davie counties, asking him to protect Spencer’s ability to buy high-speed Internet and other telecommunications services from Salisbury. Eight other mayors sent similar letters, and some have been criticized for acting without resolutions from their boards or councils.
Brock followed their wishes and proposed the amendment allowing Fibrant throughout Rowan County, with the blessing of local elected officials.
“I felt like we needed to give our citizens a choice and do everything we could to keep the door open,” Everhart said.
While Everhart said he is happy with Time Warner, competition from Fibrant could improve services.
Salisbury officials have said they may never expand Fibrant outside the city but wanted to preserve that option. Towns could enter into an interlocal agreement with Salisbury to sell Fibrant to residents and businesses, an economic development site or a public building like a town hall or fire station.
Whether Spencer residents vote on the issue this year could come down to money. If the town has missed the deadline to place a referendum on the ballot for free, aldermen would abandon the idea.