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Fibrant has new leader, but previous one is still involved

Salisbury’s broadband service has a new director, but the man who had been running the system since 2012 isn’t leaving.

Kent Winrich is the new director of Fibrant, Salisbury’s 4-year-old fiber-optic service. Before Winrich was hired in late November — his salary is $104,000 — MIke Jury had been the lead man for Fibrant. The city contracted with Jury in 2012 after Fibrant’s original director, Mike Crowell, stepped down.

Jury, whose salary this year is $113,000, is contracted with the city as a consultant. He lives in the Matthews area and owns a cable company, Altitude Communications, that serves customers in Georgia and Florida.

Interim City Manager John Sofley said Jury will still play a big role in Fibrant and that there are currently no plans to change his contract with the city.

He said Jury is working to bring Winrich up to speed on the specifics of Fibrant’s operations.

“There’s so much for Kent to learn,” Sofley said.

He also said Jury will continue to handle contract negotiations with program providers and software maintenance.

City officials have credited Jury with stabilizing Fibrant after its shaky start and putting it in better financial position.

“Once he arrived, he evaluated all the contracts we had in place,” Sofley said, adding Jury renegotiated contracts with vendors to cut costs.

He said Jury also worked with Fibrant’s hardware providers to update code. Early on, Fibrant had major problems with lengthy service outages. But the problems were fixed, and now city officials point with pride to Fibrant’s 99.999 percent reliability.

Jury was thinking about selling his company but decided against it. The decision means he’ll have less time to spend on Fibrant.

Because of Fibrant’s growth — it now has over 3,200 customers, according to the city — Jury recommended the city find a full-time director.

The recommendation led to Winrich being hired. He has over 20 years of experience working with broadband systems and was previously with Hibernia Media, a subset of global telecommunications company Hibernia Networks, where he oversaw the company’s European network.

Sofley said Winrich can take Fibrant to the next level.

“Kent has the ability to see the big picture,” Sofley said, and the knowledge to work with all of the people involved with Fibrant.

Sofley said Winrich can help Fibrant reach its full potential.

After his hiring was announced, Winrich said Salisbury made a good decision to invest in a fiber-optic network.

As Internet speeds and broadband capabilities become more and more important to the business community, he said, companies will locate in places that offer the fastest speeds and most amount of bandwidth.

Salisbury still has tens of millions of dollars of debt — from the certificates of participation the city issued in 2008 to raise the $33 million to start Fibrant — that has to be paid. And the city also took $7.6 million from the water and sewer enterprise to help fund Fibrant when it was struggling during its first couple of years in operation.

But the 2013-2014 fiscal year saw Fibrant finish in the black, according to the city’s annual audit. And city officials are hoping for the same result for the current year.

 Contact reporter David Purtell at 704-797-4264.

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