Many of you have asked how the City of Wilson’s fiber network began. Here’s a short history:
The network began in 2006 as a fiber optic connection between City facilities including offices, payment centers, recreation centers, Police buildings, fire stations and other locations. It was created after persistent reliability issues with the previous provider. The fiber ‘ring’ connected City-owned facilities throughout town.
Even as the network was being built, local businesses and industries noticed that the City was installing fiber optic lines. Recognizing the technical superiority of fiber, the City heard from several companies that were interested in connecting to the fiber ring. City Council received numerous requests to make the fiber available to businesses and citizens whose needs were not being met with the copper lines that have been serving Wilson for decades.
After market studies and a detailed business plan from two separate consultants, the City determined that there was pent-up demand in Wilson for better communication services, particularly greater bandwidth. Broadband, by its current definition, was already available in Wilson. The FCC defines broadband as 200 Kbps. That speed is woefully inadequate for most of today’s online activity. While technically available from other providers, it simply wasn’t enough.
The City spoke with our two incumbent providers (Time Warner Cable and Embarq) and asked if they would build a FTTP (fiber to the premise) network in Wilson or partner with the City in doing so. Large fortune 500 companies are installing fiber in large metro areas, but it became clear that Wilson and Eastern North Carolina would likely be one of the last areas in our state, if not the country, to see FTTP investment by the private sector. Our location and demographics would not allow the investor-owned monopolies to make enough profit or receive their required return on investment. Embarq agreed to enter talks with the City for a potential partnership. Time Warner Cable turned the City down and began lobbying for State legislation to block Wilson from investing in itself.
In 2007, City Council elected unanimously to make the fiber optic network available to every business and home in the city limits. They believed, and still believe today, that good, dependable, advanced broadband access is critical infrastructure for our future, just as public water and sewer systems have been. They believe that better broadband access would give existing businesses and new businesses a reason to stay or move to Wilson. The City Council held hearings for public comments, and received strong support from many sources, including: Wilson County Schools, Barton College, Wilson Community College, Wilson Medical Center, the Wilson Chamber of Commerce, the Economic Development Council, and numerous businesses and industries including some of our largest employers.
City Council voted unanimously to move forward with the 28-million dollar project. Instead of paying for the project through a tax increase, the Council chose to sell high speed Internet, cable TV, and phone service and let the subscriber revenue cover the cost of the network. Financing was unanimously approved by the North Carolina Local Government Commission and our debt was well-received by the financial markets.
In 2007, a bill similar to the two that are currently in committee (SB 1004 and HB 1252) was circulated throught the NC House. It failed to pass after several companies including Google and Alcatel-Lucent said it was a bad bill. In 2009, the bills are back. New numbers, but essentially the same thing.
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