High-speed Internet must be a part of Carrboro’s infrastructure

(An article I wrote for today's Carrboro Citizen.)

People who live, work and visit Carrboro love the free wireless Internet. But the Town of Carrboro’s wireless is a victim of its own success. I’ve heard from a lot of people who have problems with it and wish it worked in their homes. Fact is, the area the wireless signal covers is too small, the connection is unreliable and the bandwidth is too little. Now is the time for the Town of Carrboro to take the next step. I propose the town support the construction of fiber optic Internet connections to buildings within the downtown business district.

The idea of building a fiber optic network in Carrboro isn’t farfetched. Matter of fact, the North Carolina Department of Transportation (NC DOT) and the Town of Chapel Hill are already working on it. The Town of Carrboro and the Town of Chapel Hill share an old copper-wire traffic-signal system. Last year, the Town of Chapel Hill budgeted $50,000 toward a joint investment with NC DOT to replace this old signal system with fiber optics. One strand is planned for traffic signals and another is for the town’s use. Little has been publicly discussed about this project, which is slated for completion in 2012.

The small size of Carrboro’s downtown makes the cost of extending the network practical – primarily because the distances from traffic signals to local businesses are short. Right now, the Town of Carrboro rents the signal system from the Town of Chapel Hill. If Carrboro isn’t a full partner in this resource, they may not have the power to build our future access. Supposedly, the NC DOT is trying to squeeze the Town of Chapel Hill for more money to build a fiber loop. Now is a good time for Carrboro to put in.

There’s already a large customer base for high-speed Internet service in Carrboro. We have five planned new construction projects, including a mixed-use hotel, office and retail space. Public safety organizations like rescue, fire and police also could use the bandwidth, not to mention other creative and talented people. Fiber optic Internet can provide reliable upload and download speeds in excess of 100 Mbps. We can do a lot with that!

Diversifying our community’s tax base to relieve stress on property tax has been a goal for years. One way to do that is by enticing new businesses to move here and convincing existing ones to stay. A major bit of bait can be fiber-speed bandwidth for data and voice. Now is the time to invest in building the last mile of high-speed infrastructure in Carrboro. Not later, after the recession has killed development projects. Not after the Town of Chapel Hill gets around to doing something, but now on the cusp of major national infrastructure projects promised by our new president-elect.

Brian Russell is founder of Orange Networking, orangenetworking.org

Source: Carrboro Citizen, January 15, 2009



Something like what they've done in wide awake Wilson?Indy:
Mighty, mighty broadband
—"The small city of Wilson is leading the way in providing faster, cheaper Internet service"

The Town of Wilson is a electric city. Meaning they've had infrastructure and a organization to deliver electricity and water/sewer services for decades. Supporting data services wasn't a huge leap for them. Neither Chapel Hill nor Carrboro has this ability. I think fiber lit up here will be done in a very different way.

One scenario is local and state government builds fiber infrastructure and businesses use it to deliver services upon. Much like how government builds and maintains roads that all people can use.

Are private interests using dirty tricks to squash what was accomplished in Wilson? http://www.dslreports.com/shownews/Incumbent-Dirty-Tricks-In-Wilson-NC-1...

Yesterday another set of bills in the NC House and Senate where changed into study bills. (HB1252 and SB1004) For all intents and purposes they where killed for this years session.

This is the second time grassroots pro public broadband individuals have defeated such bad bills. (last one I worked to defeat was HB1587 in 2007) At the heart of these bills is Time Warner Cable, Embarq, and AT&T. Sadly progressive Dem from Wake County Rep Harrell was tricked into sponsoring a bill on a issue he didn't know "was so complicated".

Here are a few more links describing how awful these bills were.





No we desperately need a Federal law to be passed protecting municipal broadband once and for all.

Public safety organizations like rescue, fire and police also could use
the bandwidth, not to mention other creative and talented people. Fiber
optic Internet can provide reliable upload and download speeds in
excess of 100 Mbps. We can do a lot with that!


Like, what, exactly?  Do you have any specifics, or is this just a "Feel good" idea?

Brian, you're a good explainer.  I have a few dumb-feeling questions, the answers to which would help me visualize this renovation.  "Construction" of fiber optic internet connections: what does "construction" mean in this context?  Does it mean physical building, with burying of new cable under streets, for example?  Who does it?  And are existing switching systems rendered obsolete?  Can the telephone poles come down?  I wrote at least a million words about dial tone as a Nortel contractor (plus half a million about automated operator services), but all of that comes in brown boxes. 

Sorry if I'm being vague Catherine. But I've found that the issue here in developing broadband in Chapel HIll and Carrboro is mostly political. The technical issues can be worked out. Its been done over and over all across this country.

My experience on the Chapel Hill Technology board taught me that getting mired down in debating the technical details is *very* counter productive. So I won't debate them now. Lets not get ahead of ourselves.

While I cannot speak directly to the issues with Infrastructure in downtown Carrboro (my experience was mostly with D.C., Morrisville, Wilmington, China and parts of Europe), I can at least talk a little about the problems with trying to wire an established area versus a new one.The biggest issue with Carrboro and Chapel Hill is that the infrastructure will have to be put into older buildings that may not have easy access and where to put the wires. Obviously, above ground is easiest, but it has inherit risks (e.g. a squirrel took out the phone service for the a large part of Landfall area of Wilmington back in the early 2000's when he/she electrocuted him/herself and fell on the phone line). It was, in fact, easier to get high-speed Internet service in China than it was in Wilmington. The cost for Infrastructure, switching equipment and expertise in building out the network is not plug-and-play. As for this being a feel-good idea, I think that is dismissive and wrong. People used to think extending the telephone infrastructure was a "feel-good" thing. Now, the first question businesses ask is about phone and Internet service. One reason China attracts business is that it took two phone calls for me and a little paperwork to get a high-speed Internet connection (new construction). In 5 years in Paris we could barely get a dial-tone (beautiful walk-up from the 18th or 19th Century). Having worked as an IT head for most of my adult life, I can honestly say that by investing in the technology in Orange County, we could begin to attract the kind of businesses that bring high-paying, low-impact jobs that will benefit from proximity to UNC and the skilled workers in our area that make the daily commute to RTP.I think it is a great idea and should be a regional effort, involving the University and all of the municipalities. It would be an excellent opportunity for our towns and the University to work side-by-side on something that will benefit all of us and as a consequence help firefighters, police and the poor.  During the Depression, we built roads that paved the way (quite literally) to bringing the country together. Let's use this moment as the opportunity to build the Bridge (Fiber Optic in this case) to a more connected future.  

The need for  high speed, broad band access cannot be overstated when it comes to business recruitment and development.   It is as much a part of infrastructure needs as water, sewer, and electricity in our Economic Development Districts and other areas where we want to encourage economic development.     

The idea was proposed, in detail, more than 3 years ago as a collaboration between the towns of Chapel Hill and Carrboro, the Chapel Hill Carrboro City School System, the University and Empowerment. The only thing lacking was political will on the part of elected officials. Since then the town of Chapel Hill, who manages all the traffic signals for the southern section of Orange County, has funded a project to lay extra fiber for a municipal network in  conjunction with DOTs analog-to-digital conversion of all traffic signals. The question is no longer when, but how. With the fiber in place, how will the system be designed and who will manage it? 

Check out this blog post by Fiona Morgan picking apart a "technical report" by the John Locke Foundation.

John Locke Foundation’s tech analysis: Epic fail

Some choice bits:

In a report bashing a city-owned broadband utility, the conservative John Locke Foundation reveals a stunning level of ignorance about technology.

“Wilson’s Fiber-Optic Boondoggle,” written by research director Michael Sanera and intern Katie Bethune, criticizes Wilson, N.C.’s $28 million investment in a fiber-optic network that makes high-speed Internet, cable TV and phone service to every resident and business in the city. The utility project, called Greenlight, is funded by bonds which under the city’s business plan are expected to be repaid through subscription revenue.

JLF leads with the critique that the technology “could be obsolete before it’s paid for.”

Come again?

“WiMax wireless Internet technology is rapidly leapfrogging fiber-optic cable technology, making it obsolete.”

To anyone who actually follows Internet technology, that statement is a howler.

Fiber is far and away the most advanced technology available for connecting to the Internet. It offers effectively unlimited capacity and speed. WiMax is the next generation of wireless technology, reaching further and moving data faster than the WiFi most of us use now — but nowhere near as fast as fiber. And every wireless system has to connect up to some kind of backbone. WiMax works best if connected to a fiber network.

Back in the days of the Chapel Hill IT advisory committee, there was a split in thinking about how the town should move forward in setting up town-wide broadband access. One group wanted to use the opportunity to stimulate local economic development by setting up a local network provider. The other side wanted to take advantage of the economies of scale offered by one of the Fortune 500 companies, like Time Warner. Wally Bowen, one of the driving forces in North Carolina for rural networks, has a column in today's N&O that reinforces the ED value of a local network:http://www.newsobserver.com/opinion/columns/story/1397931.html This would be a perfect idea for Carrboro, especially since they have the  small business loan program. 

1. A 50-100 dollar a month subsidy for a product that would not help most businesses do anything more than surf the web during business hours is crazy.  There is ZERO ROI for the city gov on a project like this.  What person or business is going to locate in Carrboro purely because of internet access? 2.  A fiber loop does not provide any more speed per dollar, it just allows an area to pool the cost of internet bandwidth into one big connection that the fiber loop would have to connect to.  the cost of an internet connection that would supply each person in Carrboro with a steady 100Mb/s is around a million bucks a year.3.  There is absolutely NO need for anyone to have 100Mb/s in a home and for that matter, any Carrboro businesses.  Some major corporations do not have that much.4.  The model of free muni wifi has fallen on its face more than any other muni stunt.  It doesnt work and the costs of supporting such a network are always more than anticipated.  Shoudl Carrboro build a call center and hire telereps to field all the support calls when the wifi wont reach into the back of my house?  The way to do this is to build the network, tie it to an existing internet pipe that can be downgraded if the idea fails, and pay for the maintanance of it by metering how many connections to the internet are made at which access points- then charge the business(es) at those access points a larger piece of the pie. just my $0.02  


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