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City Of Wilson To Make Fiber Optic Network Access Available To All

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WILSON, N.C. — The City of Wilson is about to embark on a project to be one of the best-wired cities in the country, let alone in North Carolina.

Wilson’s City Council voted Thursday night to authorize officials to deploy a fiber-to-the-curb and fiber-to-the-premises network to make high-speed Internet, video, TV and other services across the city.

The project is estimated to cost $26 million, said Alice Freeman, the assistant city manager. It will take fiber optic cable to homes and businesses off the 30-mile fiber optic network backbone the City recently deployed.

“If we are to compete in this global society, we’ve got to have the infrastructure that’s necessary to do so,” Freeman told WRAL.com. “This fiber is as critical today as electricity was in the late 1800s.

“It is critical for us to have sufficient water and waste water treatment capabilities and roads,” she added. “This (network) is just the next step of the evolutionary process of our infrastructure.”

Wilson and Eastern North Carolina have suffered drastically as the importance of tobacco has faded and other manufacturing jobs were lost through plant closings. By embracing the latest technology, the City hopes to encourage job creation.

“This is economic development pure and simple,” Freeman said. “We are just trying to give our citizens and businesses what they need to compete.”

A fee will be charged for individuals and businesses to use the network, she added. The City’s plan calls for the fees to make the network project “cash flow positive” in three years and paid for within 12 years.

The cost of the project was daunting, Freeman said.

“We didn’t enter into this lightly,” she explained. “This was a very gut-wrenching decision for our council.”

Once the network is deployed, Wilson will join the ranks of other smaller cities such as Dalton, Ga., Bristol, Va., and Jackson, Tenn. as community technology leaders, Freeman added. “They are big players,” she said.

Wilson officials talked with representatives from those cities and others about technology projects, she added. The City also retained the consulting firm Upton Services to assist with the project.

Backers of the network included the local hospital, school district, the community college, a private college and BB&T, the largest employer in the county, Freeman added.

The City has moved quickly of late to embrace technology. It recently decided to deploy a wireless network across downtown for Internet access. And in briefing residents about the fiber projects it even launched a blog. Details of the fiber optic network plan were also posted on the City’s web site.

Wilson already provides electric and gas service to its residents and businesses.

The City decided to deploy its own fiber network and then open it for use by businesses and citizens after private companies Time Warner Cable and Embarq said they would not provide fiber infrastructure, Freeman explained. Embarq provides telephone service across Wilson County. Time Warner is the city’s cable TV provider.

“We just can’t rely on other people to determine our destiny,” Freeman said.

City Manager Grant Goings had been on record as seeking a private sector firm to build the network.

"If any other provider wants to build an all-fiber system in Wilson, I invite them to step forward," he said recently. "Even as our employees were installing fiber to the poles, they were being stopped by businesses asking to sign up."

Tom Matthews, a regional spokesperson for Embarq, said the firm had ruled out deployment of fiber across its multi-state network, not just Wilson. The cost would be in the “billions of dollars,” he said.

However, Matthews stressed that Embarq would continue to work with City officials

“We look forward to doing what we can do to ensure our customers are taken care of and that we cooperate with the City of Wilson as it moves forward with the project,” Matthews said.

Embarq does provide a form of high-speed Internet access known as digital subscriber line (DSL). However, DSL speeds are a fraction of what could be delivered through a fiber network, which could support features such as live or on-demand video. Embarq’s DSL coverage reaches 95 percent of Wilson, Matthews said.

A spokesperson for Time Warner Cable could not be reached

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