Gaston Gazette – May 4, 2014
As super-fast Internet speeds become more attractive and attainable, more companies are racing to dangle the carrot and lure customers with the upgrade.
And Gastonia’s place within the Charlotte metro region could help keep it on the cutting edge.
The latest sign of that came in April, when AT&T announced plans to bring its top-tier fiber data network — known as “GigaPower” — to Charlotte. The company also hopes to include Gastonia and Huntersville in the expansion as it eyes markets where it already provides services such as home phone, broadband and television.
For homes and businesses that buy in, that would mean Internet speeds up to 100 times faster than the standards in place now, said AT&T spokesman Josh Gelinas. It’s emblematic of the improvement that Google has forecast, should the company follow through with a proposal of bringing its Google Fiber technology to Charlotte.
Another firm based in Shelby, RST Global, is touting an even speedier system for helping people get online to download movies, music and other data.
At the speeds AT&T is pitching, broadband users will experience a noticeable boost in performance. “GigaPower” customers will be able to download a high-definition movie in 36 seconds, a television show in 3 seconds, and 25 songs in 1 second, Gelinas said.
The company has already rolled out the service in Austin, Texas, and is gradually bringing it up to the maximum speed there. Charlotte is one of 21 metropolitan areas where it hopes to expand next.
In Austin, AT&T charges as much as $150 a month for television, Internet and phone service, or as little as $70 a month for Internet access alone. But proposed rates for the Charlotte and Gastonia regions have yet to be established.
“It’s still too early to discuss pricing,” Gelinas said.
How soon the ultra-fast service could be expanded here is also up in the air. Equipping Charlotte, Gastonia and other cities would require major infrastructure upgrades. AT&T will look more favorably on cities that can fast-track permitting requests, Gelinas said.
A pitch to Gastonia City Council members is likely coming soon.
“Our next step is to identify the communities within these markets that demonstrate the strongest investment cases based on the network, anticipated demand, and a willingness to adopt the most receptive policies,” he said. “We expect construction and deployment to begin in some communities this year.”
High in fiber
Shelby-based RST Global began laying 3,000 miles of fiber-optic cable across the state in 2009. As it works to expand its reach, it is promising customers Internet speeds up to 1,000 times faster than the current standard, with up to 100 gigabits per second.
RST’s fiberoptic network is set up to work differently from others, such as AT&T’s, in that it won’t require running cables directly into homes and businesses. The company plans to get signals there using Wi-Fi and standard routers. That is keeping its infrastructure costs lower.
RST Global President Dan Limerick said service is available now in a few select locations where the “backbone” of the fiberoptic line runs through Gaston County. But the company hasn’t begun serving businesses and residents on a large scale yet.
“We’re just finishing making sure the network is set up and ready to go,” he said.
Eventually, RST will be able to serve both rural and metropolitan areas across the state. Limerick said he’s excited about AT&T’s news because it’s a sign that such larger providers are beginning to see the potential of improving communications in North Carolina.
“From our perspective, one of the greatest successes we can say we’ve had is to get people talking about gigabit speeds,” he said. “I look at it as a golden opportunity for companies like RST to partner with Google or AT&T and see what we can do about taking North Carolina from a relatively low-ranking position within broadband, to a position of having some of the best connections out there — especially in rural areas.”
Fiberoptic communication is a critical part of future infrastructure, Limerick said.
“Communities that don’t have it are going to fall by the wayside,” he said.
By Michael Barret
You can reach Michael Barrett at 704-869-1826 or twitter.com/GazetteMike.