North Carolina Communities Draw Up Internet Service Wishlist

A series of meetings is being hosted to flesh out what residents of Henderson County require when it comes to their high-speed Internet connections.

by Andrew Mundhenk, Times-News / December 5, 2018
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(TNS) — Henderson County residents offered input Tuesday on what they want for high-speed Internet at the first of a series of meetings to receive input on a regional initiative to bring in high-speed networks to Western North Carolina.

Tuesday evening, the town the Fletcher hosted the first of three public input meetings scheduled this week in the county to receive feedback on residents’ current broadband service. Similar meetings will be held Wednesday in Hendersonville and Laurel Park.

In 2016, Fletcher, Hendersonville and Laurel Park began working with Asheville, Biltmore Forest and Waynesville to form the West Next Generation Network. The six municipalities are working with UNC-Asheville, Western Carolina University and N.C. State University with support from the Land of Sky Council of Governments in hopes of recruiting more private companies in the area to provide broadband service, increasing competition in the process.

The western municipalities hope to repeat the success of the original North Carolina Next Generation Network in the Research Triangle. The result of the Triangle’s universities and cities banding together as one resulted in AT&T and Google Fiber implementing gigabit service in the area.

Fletcher Town Manager Mark Biberdorf said WestNGN interviewed two firms and began talks with RiverStreet Networks – a subsidiary for telephone membership cooperative Wilkes Communications based out of Wilkes County. RiverStreet also helped assemble the survey that has been sent out to residents to take.

Tuesday’s meeting at Fletcher Town Hall began with a presentation from RiverStreet. CEO Eric Cramer said the goal of RiverStreet is to purchase old copper-based phone companies and turn them into broadband companies, Cramer said. The company now has about 25,000 customers in mostly rural areas across North Carolina and southern Virginia.

Cramer said the company is gauging interest in providing fiber to Fletcher, Hendersonville, Laurel Park and Biltmore Forest, with the ability to expand that service into neighboring rural areas over time. Their goal is to be able to offer everyone speeds of 100 megabytes per second for $100.

The meeting also included presentations from Henderson County’s current Internet providers, Morris Broadband and Charter Communications, on their offers and long-term plans. Representatives from AT&T did not attend.

The county’s Internet customer base is largely spilt between Morris and AT&T, while Charter only offers Internet to 50 customers in northern Henderson County, with no plans to expand.

After the presentations, the meeting was opened to the public for questions. Audience members wanted to see more competition in the area to lower cost, increased reliability and expanding Charter into Hendersonville, while business owners expressed the need for high-speed Internet.

Another public input meeting will be held Wednesday at 10 a.m. at First Congregational Church in Laurel Park, 1735 Fifth Ave. W. A meeting will also be held at 6 p.m. at the City Operations Center in Hendersonville, 305 Williams St.

©2018 Times-News, Hendersonville, N.C. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.