Editorial: Salisbury ahead of curve, hoopla for fiber

Published 12:00 am Sunday, February 1, 2015

If you were a Salisbury city official this past week, you had to smile seeing all the hoopla surrounding Google Fiber’s announcement it would bring fiber-optic cable to the Triangle and Charlotte.

Maybe folks such as Mayor Paul Woodson, Mayor Pro Tem Maggie Blackwell and Interim City Manager John Sofley also asked, “Why all the fuss?” When the city took on existing Internet, telephone and television providers five years ago by launching it own fiber-optic utility, there was more concern than fanfare about the considerable investment.

Yet five years later, leaders in Raleigh and Charlotte are hailing Google Fiber as a white knight for bringing an upgrade that will represent, as the Raleigh News & Observer put it, “a giant leap for the region’s Internet connectivity.”

N.C. Gov. Pat McCrory could hardly contain his excitement. He said it will help North Carolina in education, in creating jobs and making the state accessible “to everybody.” McCrory went as far as saying North Carolina will go from once being known as the Good Roads State to being identified as the “21st Century Digital Infrastructure State.”

Why were the governor and major metropolitan leaders so thrilled? They see Google Fiber as bringing a considerable, market-changing investment into the local Internet infrastructure. They talk about Raleigh and Charlotte becoming gigabit cities offering Internet speeds 100 times faster than typical broadband connections.

They think Google’s entrance into the Internet mix will force other companies such as Time Warner Cable and AT&T to offer gigabit capabilities to more of their customers.

But back to Salisbury. City officials here saw fiber-optic cable as a way of creating jobs, helping education and giving Salisbury a competitive advantage, which all sounds eerily familiar. They also feared the advantages of high-speed, fiber-optic Internet connections would not come to Salisbury for years, maybe decades, if left to the existing cable providers.

They predicted — and Google Fiber’s announcement reinforces their assessment — that the speeds associated with fiber-optic networks would go to the metropolitan areas first, unless Salisbury took action on its own.

Back in 2013, only 9 percent of the state had fiber-to-the-home access, and smaller cities such as Wilson and Salisbury represented a good chunk of that. They had to go out on the limb to provide fiber-optic utilities, knowing they weren’t going to have it for a long time otherwise.

As you can see from a billboard or two around town, Salisbury already touts itself as a gigabit city with the public-owned infrastructure it has in place through Fibrant. The question still remains: How does Salisbury best use that infrastructure to its advantage?