The Fight for High-Speed Internet Continues in Burlington, N.C.

While some in the city are connected to faster service, some residents and businesses are left to fend for themselves.

by Bill Cresenzo, Times-Neqs / January 29, 2018

(TNS) — When Jessica Pasion became executive director of the Burlington Downtown Corp. in 2017, she said that one of her main goals was to get high-speed Internet access for all downtown businesses.

“We understand the urgency,” Pasion recently told the Times-News, adding that she and others continue to talk with companies such as Spectrum and AT&T to connect downtown businesses to high-speed fiber-optic networks.

“For business customers, we deliver speeds up to the multiple gigabits via custom fiber solutions over our fiber-rich network, and have a wide variety of speeds, features, and options based on the diverse needs of business customers,” said Scott Pryzwansky of Charter Communications, which owns Spectrum.

But those businesses don't include those such as Plageman Architecture on South Spring Street. And founder John Plageman said that the lack of fiber optic Internet is causing problems.

“There's a certain point where it is not financially feasible to stay downtown because I cannot grow,” he said.

When he sends a client a typical file, it can take up take six minutes, “when it really should take about a second,” he said.

Even as AT&T continues to expand its fiber optic network to condominium and apartment complexes in Burlington — AT&T says that at least 10 condominium and apartment complexes are connected to its fiber optic network — most city residents and businesses don't have access to fiber optic Internet. Instead, they get their Internet service through slower cable or DSL lines.

The average speed is 41.4 megabits per second, according to Broadband Now, a nonprofit company that tracks Internet access in cities around the country.

Fiber optic cable can provide speeds as fast as 1,000 megabits per second.

Government buildings will frequently have fiber connected directly to their buildings, said Jameson Zimmer, Broadband Now’s director of content. Burlington is connected, but is not allowed to provide the Internet as a utility, so it cannot share its network with businesses.

"Fiber is the new kid on the block, and the reason it's been slow to build out is because it is super expensive to build it out," Jameson said.

Indeed, the issue of bringing a fiber optic network to all of downtown comes down to the cost of installing it underground, and whether Internet providers will get a return on their investment, said Nolan Kirkman, Burlington’s director of development and technical Services.

Jameson cited a recent project in California, where it cost $200,000 just to lay fiber optic line across a freeway.

In 2015, Burlington joined the Triad Gigabit Initiative, a group of municipalities and universities whose mission is to bring high-speed Internet to everyone in the Triad. The group has selected North State Communications to expand its fiber-optic network.

In the meantime, Plageman doesn’t like the prospect of moving his business out of the building that he bought in 2010.

“It breaks my heart." he said. "I have the space to grow, but I don’t have the infrastructure to grow." 

©2018 Times-News (Burlington, N.C.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.