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

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

(The above is an article I wrote for the Carrboro Citizen.)

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