Want gigabit internet? Local company may beat Google to it

WCNC – April 30, 2014

SHELBY, N.C. — There’s a lot of talk about Google Fiber coming to town and offering internet speeds at least 10 times faster than what we have now. That could be years away in Charlotte. But there’s a company that says it’ll give you that same speed by this summer, and they plan to do it without running a wire to your house.

“This is what we refer to as our Shelby head end,” says Dan Limerick of RST Fiber, pointing to a small brown building in the woods just outside Shelby. “This is where it all started, right here.”

But here’s the problem with RST Fiber: nobody’s really heard of RST Fiber.

“They don’t know who you are,” I say.

“No clue,” Limerick says.

So Limerick turned a trailer into a moving billboard that he plans on towing around the state. And he hopes the small brown building he built near Shelby will be the base for something big.

“I see that fiber is the future,” he says.

Limerick made a big bet by burying more than 3,100 miles of fiber optic cable around North Carolina.

Right now, there are fiber optic cables running all around Charlotte and North Carolina, carrying internet signals like water mains carry drinking water. But most of it gets from those big cables to your house via coaxial cable, which is a smaller and slower pipe. It’s what Time Warner Cable uses to provide the vast majority of its internet service. Google Fiber plans to wire houses directly with fiber optic cable, offering gigabit speeds at least 10 times faster than the fastest speeds available at homes locally. RST is offering a third option: Rather than running wires, it would set up radios on things like tall buildings and water towers. You could set up a receiver at your home and still receive the gigabit speeds that Google plans to offer.

“I don’t look at Google as a competitor,” Limerick says. “I look at Google as an ally in this.”

The difference, according to Limerick, is that RST would eventually offer gigabit speeds in places where Google and others won’t go. Avoiding those areas is an old way of thinking, Limerick says.

“What if the same attitude would have prevailed concerning electricity? You’d have electrical connections in Charlotte and Raleigh, but you’d still have kerosene lamps and candles out in some of the rural areas. The country saw years and years ago that that wouldn’t work.”

For now, RST hopes to roll out home service this summer in Charlotte, Raleigh and Asheville, offering gigabit internet at around $100 a month. They also plan to offer television and other services. They’re also planning on dealing with stiff competition. “Number one, we have to be price competitive,” Limerick says. “Number two, we have to provide quality and reliable service.”

Number three? They have to tell people they exist.