Cover Story: Salisbury - a wired city?

By Jeff Atkinson - bio l email

SALISBURY, NC (WBTV) - In the old days if you wanted to attract business to your town you built a railroad.  Later, you added highways, and phone lines.

Now one city in our backyard is taking it to the next level.

When Pillowtex closed in Kannapolis seven years ago, taking thousands of jobs out of the community--Salisbury could have shriveled up and died.

Instead it planned and built a superhighway to the future to attract businesses and jobs.

Some are asking could it be the making of a future Silicon valley?

This is what it's about - fiber optic cable.  It's been around for awhile.

But what Salisbury is doing is revolutionary-- connecting every home and business in the city to these lines.  And what it'll open-- well the possibilities are endless.

Imagine being able to go to the doctor without going to the office - by talking to him through the TV in your home.

Imagine downloading a full-length movie to your computer in a matter of seconds.

Or for public safety.  Imagine police being able to see live streaming of many surveillance cameras at the same time.  And do it-- city wide.

Sounds like the old cartoon show the Jetson's?

"It is.  We're on the verge of being the city of the future. It's going to be neat!" says Mike Crowell, director of broadband services for the city of Salisbury.

The city has named the utility Fibrant.

How will this connection take place?  Through fiber optic lines.  How fast is fiber optic?

"If you had 15 of these it would be able to carry all the data that goes through the internet at any given minute in the whole of the USA," says Len Clark, sales and marketing manager for Fibrant.

And starting this year it be available in Salisbury (population 32,000) to every citizen in the Rowan county town who wants it.

Just like the railroads connected the people of old.

Fiber optic cable can connect us in ways we've never been able to before:  Allow us to talk back and forth via computer; share data and information; and for Salisbury lure companies on the cutting edge.

It's why the city's borrowed more than $30 million and in the last year and a half built the infrastructure and wired 220 street miles of Salisbury.

"What would make us really unique and what would bring jobs and businesses? And why would they look to Salisbury instead of going to Charlotte or the Biotech center or somewhere they could make more money?" says Salisbury Mayor Susan Kluttz.

Brad Walser runs a technology company in downtown Salisbury.  He's hoping to be the first customer of the city's fiber optic network. Comparing our current high-speed internet to fiber optic he says, "It would kinda go from a garden hose at full power at your house to what you'd see a fireman's hose or what a fireman uses and the amount of water pressure that comes out of it."

Surprisingly in Salisbury-- there's been little resistance from citizens to the city getting in the cable TV, internet and phone business.

Where they have run into opposition is from private companies currently providing telecom services.

They're trying to get a bill passed in the legislature to stop it.

"It's frustrating when the private sector is not willing to provide this type of infrastructure in a community and they're also trying to stop you from doing it," said Doug Paris, a lobbyist for the city and assistant to the City Manager.

There's a bill in the General Assembly that would clip cities' wings to keep them from getting into the broadband business.  Cities are fighting the bill.

Telecom companies say local governments don't have to pay taxes and can subsidize their rates to put them out of business.

Salisbury is set to go on line this summer.

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