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Construction of Fiber-to-the-Home Gigabit Internet on Hilton Head, S.C. to Begin Jan. 15

Although the project is expected to cost upwards of $10 million, officials tout that the network will attract business to the area and make up for the cost.

by Ashley Fahey, The Island Packet (Hilton Head Island, S.C.) / December 22, 2015

(TNS) -- The first step in a plan to bring faster Internet service to Hilton Head Island is set to begin in the new year.

Hargray announced this week that Hilton Head Plantation would be the first community on the island to receive fiber-to-the-home gigabit service. Construction is set to begin Jan. 15.

The island currently has copper telecommunications infrastructure that was installed decades ago, according to Hargray CEO Michael Gottdenker.

"We are overbuilding the copper system," he said. "Our goal is to do this wherever there is demand for it."

The fiber technology has been touted as being up to 100 times faster than the national average. In the U.S., gigabit Internet service has made the biggest moves in large cities, by major providers such as Google and Verizon, but area officials say it's important for Beaufort County to stay ahead of the curve.

"Cities were once built along waterways," Gottdenker said. "Fiber-optic technology now is what a river was back then."

The cost to implement fiber-optic technology locally is tens of millions of dollars, he said. He said Hargray's board of directors is confident that the technology will be relevant, and necessary, for a significant period of time.

"It's a massive infrastructure improvement project that's taken a lot of (planning)," Gottdenker said.

The implementation is part of Hargray's Lowcountry Broadband Plan, announced this summer as a commitment to bring gigabit Internet service to customers. Town and county governments, in addition to the Hilton Head Island Information Technology Taskforce, the Hilton Head Island Economic Development Corp. and local chambers of commerce, have endorsed the plan. Hargray has previously said it will not ask local governments for help to finance the upgrades.

"You can work anywhere with good telecommunications infrastructure," said Jim Collett, chairman of the Hilton Head Island Information Technology Taskforce. "This fiber-optic technology says, 'We're ready for business.'"

Collett added the technology could be a particular draw for telecommuters and retirees who embark on a second career, in addition to attracting younger entrepreneurs who require high-speed Internet to launch start-ups.

Don Kirkman, president of the Hilton Head Island Economic Development Corp., said having the most up-to-date technology -- including fiber and state-of-the-art cellular reception and Wi-Fi -- is crucial to the island's future.

"We are targeting entrepreneurs to come to Hilton Head," he said. "If we are marketing Hilton Head as a place where technology-enabled companies should come, (having) fiber is a necessary and critical component."

It's important, he added, that Hargray extend the fiber-optic network into nonresidential areas, where there is a heavy concentration of businesses, including Arrow Road, New Orleans Road and Mathews Drive. The Lowcountry Broadband Plan says it will provide gigabit services to residential areas and to large and small businesses, as well as gigabit Wi-Fi to public areas.

Gottdenker said he hopes to have fiber-optic infrastructure available to Hilton Head Hargray customers as quickly as possible.

"It depends on the demand, but we hope to have the majority of the work (on Hilton Head) completed in less than five years," he said. The estimated timeline for completion in Hilton Head Plantation is six to nine months.

Many residential communites on Hilton Head have expressed interest in the infrastructure, but Gottdenker said Hilton Head Plantation, which has about 4,200 homes, was particularly eager to get fiber installed in its community.

To get the upgrade, at least 50 percent of a community must indicate they would use the Lowcountry Broadband Plan.

"People seek these technological advances," said Peter Kristian, general manager of the Hilton Head Plantation Property Owners' Association. "From a marketing perspective, this type of technology -- typically only available in larger cities -- opens up the door to home-based businesses."

Kristian added home values typically increase between 3 to 5 percent for properties that have gigabit Internet service, another incentive for residents and the Property Owners' Association to have fiber installed in the community.

Beyond Hilton Head, Hargray has planned trials to replace existing infrastructure early next year in Belfair Plantation and Mill Creek in Bluffton.

Kirkman said the technology is a step in the right direction to encourage economic development in a place traditionally seen as a tourist and retiree destination.

"I can't emphasize how important this (technology) is," he said. "We want to be seen as a place where start-ups are embraced and nurtured.

"We need to work on the branding message that Hilton Head Island is a place to do business."

©2015 The Island Packet (Hilton Head, S.C.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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