Forbes – April 18, 2014
Many of us look at high-speed internet as a way to enjoy pleasures like clearer HDTV and speedier Wi-Fi. But as lightening-fast service gets rolled out in new markets, it could also pave the way to innovation–and new jobs for many–or so say proponents. We’re just starting to see what happens when businesses and consumers have access to connectivity at 1-gigabit-per second or faster.
“Everything in this country is evolving and changing, and technology is leading that change,” says Dan Limerick, co-founder of RST Fiber Optic Networks, a Shelby, N.C.-based firm that that develops and manages fiber optic networks. “Without more bandwidth, those changes are very difficult to make. It is impossible to download or move the information fast enough. A 1-gigabit connection makes that possible.”
Limerick’s company is working on building a 3,100 mile, 100-gigabit fiber network that spans North Carolina’s cities and rural areas, using Cisco’s architecture. The goal is to turn North Carolina into the first “gigabit state.” RST Fiber’s network will provide broadband service to both homes and businesses, he says.
“We’re really excited for RST Fiber to launch their service,” says Greg Smith, a marketing manager at Cisco. “We’re hoping they will be successful and grow.”
Limerick says that RST Fiber wants to counteract the gradual decline of the state’s textile industry, and the consequent loss of jobs. North Carolina’s seasonally adjusted unemployment figure was 6.4%, lower than the nation’s 6.7%, but many people in the state are facing the same underemployment and lack of opportunity that is hurting the middle class across the country.
“The job market has been lean, to say the least,” says Limerick. “The jobs available are not the highest paying ones needed to adequately support a family. We felt we could do something about that by bringing technology to this area first. The idea took off and has grown.”
When we spoke in March, Limerick said RST Fiber was testing its service with 200 customers. The company aims to roll out video and TV service by the end of the second quarter.
RST Fiber is not the only player to see the promise of ultra-speedy internet access. Google has already been testing 1-gigabit service in Kansas City and is taking signups in Provo, Utah. The search giant is now considering rolling out service of at least 1-gigabit to 34 cities–including Charlotte, N.C. and Raleigh-Durham, N.C.–according to its website. Meanwhile, AT&T recently announced intentions to expand into six cities in North Carolina.
Limerick believes that services like RST Fiber’s will be crucial in developing what has been called the “internet of everything,” in which products from lightbulbs to cars are connected to digital networks. Very fast internet also make it possible to innovate in areas ranging from telemedicine to the smart grid.
It is early to tell how much new-business creation RST Fiber’s technology will spark. The cost of creating the network will undoubtedly influence how fast it rolls out. ”We are looking for strategic partners to help us roll this out statewide, and hopefully, nationwide,” says Limerick.
But as Limerick envisions it, fiber will soon be as ubiquitous as electricity. “I think fiber is going to be something every community is going to have in the future,” he says. “The ones that get it first are going to be that far ahead of the game. The internet is the route to knowledge. Knowledge, regardless of where you live, is limitless, when you have a good internet connection.”
If RST Fiber can execute its plan, many will be watching North Carolina’s progress. Americans in regions that have lost their manufacturing base often find themselves with few alternatives for work. Innovators who tap better internet connectivity to launch creative new businesses could be an important pipeline to new middle-class jobs.By Elaine Pofeldt