Letter from the Mayor – The Internet Future is Fiber

This past month City Council met to discuss and rank our priorities for the coming year. The fact that Burlington is right between the rapidly growing Triad and Triangle regions means that we have no shortage of tasks ahead of us to prepare for that growth as it converges towards us. Thankfully, the city has been diligently evaluating and preparing for what is to come and I can tell you that it’s exciting. With that growth comes the flexibility to steer our course forward and shape the community that we want to be.

One of the factors that City Council has chosen to invest in is high speed connectivity (fiber). For years we’ve been connecting city buildings with fiber buried beneath our streets and strung along utility poles. Now we’re focusing on bridging the 11.9 mile gap in existing lines between Burlington and Greensboro. When we lay fiber it is actually comprised of many individual strands some of which are not used immediately, are available for backup later, or can be leased by other entities. This city owned fiber that is “in-lit” is often referred to as “dark fiber” and traditionally is accessible only to the city for the purpose of carrying data critical to the operation and safety of the city. But as part of the new TriGig initiative Burlington has partnered with municipalities throughout the Triad to open up and make this infrastructure available for lease by internet providers.

In the 1800’s our community grew around the railway that cut through central North Carolina. Our private mill  industries benefited from the access that this infrastructure provided them to markets for their goods. Cities like Burlington then invested in building electrical and water infrastructure that improved the quality of work and life here.  In the middle of the 20th century we invested in highways that became the new driver of industrial and commercial growth. Today, our society thrives with the flow of data. Our universities, schools, businesses, and homes are wired to the world. Data connectivity is driving the next industrial revolution and just as before we want to make sure that Burlington is invested in the infrastructure to ensure that our city thrives.

Fiber, or fiberoptic data lines are that next infrastructure wave. These ultra-clear and flexible glass fibers are able to carry immense amounts of data at nearly the speed of light. While the city has a role to play, this step really involves private businesses. The TriGig project entered into discussions with North State Communications to explore bridging the gap between existing dark fiber and the homes and businesses of our community. But the project is also acting as a catalyst for the market. It has signaled to existing providers what our community’s needs are. Already, AT&T and Time Warner (Spectrum) are responding by improving and upgrading their infrastructure.

Just last year Time Warner (Spectrum) expanded their 300Mb Extreme internet service to our area. And now AT&T is hard at work installing 1Gb GigaPower lines to homes and businesses.  It will take time to upgrade the hundreds of miles of cabling around our city, but in the end we will have a healthy competitive market feeding our city with a variety of data connectivity options. Healthy competition relying on vital infrastructure that will drive the continued growth of our community long into the future.

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