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Hammer Time: Salisbury mayor touts Fibrant with entertainer

SALISBURY — He was one degree of separation from Kevin Bacon last year. Now, Salisbury Mayor Paul Woodson has experienced Hammer Time.
Woodson met legendary 1990s rapper M.C. Hammer, also known as Stanley Burrell, last week at the U.S. Conference of Mayors in Washington, D.C. Back in May, Woodson met Bacon, a movie star, when Salisbury won a $10,000 prize for USA Weekend Make a Difference Day.
Hammer was the guest speaker for an innovation and technology session at the mayors conference, where Woodson said the singer — as famous for his pants as his music — advocated for high-speed Internet as a way to combat poverty and help the U.S. catch up with other countries.
In a room crowded with roughly 200 people, including about 50 mayors, Woodson said he was proud to announce that Salisbury has a municipal high-speed broadband network, Fibrant. He said he was the only mayor of a city with its own fiber-to-the-home utility.
“We are ahead of the game,” Woodson said. “They were looking at me like, ‘Wow, who are you?’ ”
Salisbury was also the smallest city represented at the session, he said.
“There were a lot of high-powered mayors there,” Woodson said. “I was proud that we have taken the initiative to get our city up and running for the future. In five years, our city will be so ahead of everybody else.”
Woodson acknowledged that Fibrant, a $33 million network, still has glitches. The service has struggled with reliability and has fewer subscribers than originally projected, although the city has changed its strategy from quickly signing up large numbers of customers to cutting costs.
“I know we have problems. I’m not saying that we don’t,” he said. “But we are getting our problems ironed out. A year ago, we didn’t even know what our problems were.”
Woodson ran into some criticism for talking about Fibrant during his comments at a Martin Luther King Jr. Day ceremony. Woodson said he was sharing his pride in Salisbury, not trying to pitch an Internet service provider.
Fibrant means education, opportunity and, most importantly, jobs for Salisbury, Woodson said.
City leaders and economic developers hope Fibrant’s state-of-the-art network, which offers the fastest Internet speeds in the state, will lure businesses and high-tech firms.
“I’m proud to be the mayor of a city that’s ahead of the curve,” Woodson said.
So what was the singer of “Too Legit to Quit” doing at a mayors summit talking about technology?
Considered a pioneer of pop rap, Hammer is now an entrepreneur and Web activist. He became interested in all things Internet after recovering from financial collapse.
After earning as much as $33 million in 1990, the year “U Can’t Touch This” topped the charts, Hammer lived a life of excess and filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in 1996. He eventually came back from financial ruin and started several Internet projects.
Woodson also rubbed shoulders at the conference with John Legend, an American singer-songwriter and actor with nine Grammy Awards.

Contact reporter Emily Ford at 704-797-4264.

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