County commissioners vote to allow Fibrant extension to business parks

Published 12:05 am Tuesday, June 21, 2016

By Josh Bergeron

SALISBURY — Rowan is slowing inching toward becoming a “gig county.”

Because of city-owned Fibrant, Salisbury called itself a “gig city” for years. It shifted the informal slogan to “10-gig city” after announcing an internet speed upgrade in September 2015. When Rowan County commissioners on Monday voted to allow a Fibrant extension to two business parks outside of Salisbury, Fibrant’s director Kent Winrich called it “the first step” toward seeing the service’s economic potential.

“It’s a huge arrow in our quiver for economic development,” Winrich said.

When they voted to allow a Fibrant extension to Chamandy Drive and Summit Corporate Center, commissioners repeatedly clarified the decision would not require the county to spend tax dollars. Winrich said it’s likely city tax dollars also won’t be required for the extension. He wouldn’t say whether private business would pay for the extension.

State law required commissioners to vote on whether to allow a Fibrant extension to a county economic development site, and the vote on Monday specifically allows service in business parks located immediately to the south of Salisbury. The vote was unanimous among commissioners in attendance.

The intended targets for the extensions include Agility Fuel Systems and Gildan Yarns. Agility operates its East Coast headquarters in Summit Corporate Center. Gildan Yarns is located adjacent to Chamandy Drive. Once fiber-optic lines are extended, Agility and Gildan would represent the largest private businesses that are hooked onto Fibrant.

Winrich said the city of Salisbury could potentially provide Fibrant service to the two business within a matter of weeks rather than the several months required to extend fiber optic lines. He said Fibrant has the capability to beam internet service through the air to the businesses with microwaves — similar to how satellite TV works.

The microwave solution would be temporary. City and business leaders would continue working on a permanent Fibrant extension, Winrich said.

Rowan County commissioners talked for a short amount of time before the vote. Initially on the consent agenda, commissioners put the extension on the regular agenda at Commissioner Craig Pierce’s request. Pierce was sick and unable to attend Monday’s meeting, but commissioners Chairman Greg Edds said Pierce’s intent was to ensure the general public understood what was occurring.

Edds said he would speak about Pierce’s concerns. Edds also read two letters sent to county officials from the private businesses.

Repeatedly, Edds stressed that county government wouldn’t contribute any money to an extension.

“It is no cost to us,” Edds said. “This does also not open up the whole county for Fibrant.”

He also described Fibrant as another economic asset and likened the city-owned internet service to a public utility.

“They’re asking for it, and our question is: why would we not give it to them,” he said about Agility’s and Gildan’s requests. “We’re not cutting off two lanes of (Interstate 85). We’re not saying you can’t use water. We’re not saying you can only use half of the electricity you need.”

In his letter, Agility’s North Carolina Opperations Director Shawn Adelsberger said his company currently subscribes to 20 megabit per second internet service. By comparison, Fibrant offers 10 gigabit per second service — a number of times faster.

Commissioner Judy Klusman briefly spoke in support of allowing Fibrant to extend to the business parks. Klusman touted the service as “such a jewel that people don’t really know about.”

Commissioner Mike Caskey also spoke during Fibrant discussions. He clarified that Rowan County wouldn’t spend any money on the extensions. He also asked whether people living near the extension would be able to receive Fibrant service.

The answer to Caskey’s question is maybe, according to state law. If a house or business sits within 300 feet of a Fibrant line outside of a Rowan municipality, the owner can ask to become a customer, according to state law. All municipalities in Rowan, excluding Kannapolis, are already considered as being located in Fibrant’s “service area.”

Although county commissioners stressed that the Monday vote doesn’t open “the whole county” to Fibrant service, more than one Rowan resident on Monday asked commissioners to consider the idea. Both were residents of the rural, southeastern corner of Rowan County, and said their subdivision recently lost AT&T internet service.

When asked after Monday’s meeting, Winrich said it’s “hard to quantify” the significant value Fibrant represents for economic development. He said the city of Salisbury and Fibrant are already contemplating extensions into surrounding municipalities.

Contact reporter Josh Bergeron at 704-797-4246.