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Speaker at City Council’s retreat will discuss value of being a ‘gig city’

During its annual retreat next week, Salisbury City Council will hear from the director of an organization dedicated to promoting municipal broadband networks.

Deb Socia, executive director of Next Century Cities, will be the guest speaker at a luncheon on Thursday at City Hall.

Based in Washington, D.C., “Next Century Cities supports communities and their elected leaders, including mayors and other officials, as they seek to ensure that all have access to fast, affordable and reliable Internet,” according to the organization’s website.

Salisbury, which has operated its own fiber-optic network — Fibrant — since 2010, joined the coalition late last year.

Socia spent most of her career as an educator and was the founding principal of a middle school in Boston, Mass. She is a supporter and promoter of bringing technology to the classroom.

Before joining Next Century Cities, Socia led the award-winning program Tech Goes Home, which works to bring technology skills and tools to underserved people in Boston.

In an article about Tech Goes Home and Socia published last July, The Christian Science Monitor called her a “technology champion for the very poor.”

Salisbury Mayor Paul Woodson said council members plan to hear Socia tell them how they can use Fibrant to attract businesses to Salisbury.

“She’s basically coming to try to educate us about what we can do to get the word out to attract business,” he said.

Salisbury is ahead of the curve, Woodson said about the city having its own broadband network.

“But people don’t know about us yet,” he said, so the city needs to come up with a plan to spread its message.

At the end of January, Next Century Cities sent a letter on behalf of several municipalities to the Federal Communications Commission regarding state laws regulating municipal broadband networks and a petition from two cities with their own public broadband networks — Wilson, North Carolina, and Chattanooga, Tennessee., — asking the FCC to strike down parts of their respective state laws inhibiting the cities from expanding their networks.

Woodson is one of the 38 mayors who signed the letter.

The letter reads in part, “We are writing to you today because you now face a critical choice that will help determine whether America’s towns and cities are able to develop the digital infrastructure that will power the next century, or whether they will be shut out of this information revolution.”

It continues, “We write only to urge that, as you consider these petitions, you take proper account of the importance of local choice and autonomy. The benefits of high-quality broadband are now beyond dispute: these projects have stimulated local innovation and economic development, enhanced education, improved government services, and opened new worlds of opportunity to communities and citizens.”

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler announced last week he is in favor of taking action against the laws.

“After looking carefully at petitions by two community broadband providers asking the FCC to pre-empt provisions of state laws preventing expansion of their very successful networks, I recommend approval by the Commission so that these two forward-thinking cities can serve the many citizens clamoring for a better broadband future,” Wheeler said in a statement.

The issue will be brought up during the FCC’s meeting Feb. 26.

In a statement about Wheeler’s comments, Socia said, “If we want truly next-generation broadband, then cities across the country need to be in the driver’s seat. That’s why they are looking to the FCC to uphold their ability to make the best choices for their communities and residents.”

Officials with the city of Salisbury have said the city would benefit immensely from the FCC dismantling all or parts of North Carolina’s 2011 law regulating municipal broadband.

Last week, Woodson said the state’s law being weakened or struck down completely would be great for Salisbury because it would allow the city to expand Fibrant.

Currently, North Carolina’s law restricts Salisbury’s ability to expand Fibrant outside of pre-set boundaries — mostly the city limits.

Interim City Manager John Sofley said there are people who want Fibrant but are on the wrong side of the network’s boundary because they’re literally on the other side of the street.

Thursday’s luncheon will last from noon to 1:15 p.m. A complete agenda for council’s retreat should be ready early next week.

Contact Reporter David Purtell at 704-797-4264. 


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