RST Fiber eyes Wake Forest as high-speed broadband test ground

sbarr@newsobserver.comApril 10, 2014 

— A small company promising to bring a high-speed fiber broadband network to North Carolina would like to make the town one of its proving grounds.

RST Fiber, based in Cleveland County, announced in March that it would roll out gigbabit Internet service to areas across the state.

And now company officials say they want Wake Forest to be one of the first communities where they offer service because of the town’s size and the enthusiasm of local officials and residents.

Chief Executive Dan Limerick said the company also is betting that if Wake Forest residents like their service, they’ll quickly spread the word to potential customers in Raleigh.

“They will be our best salespeople,” he said.

Town officials have spent months investigating how to bring high-speed broadband to the town, including forming a task force of local experts and business owners to examine the issue.

Assistant town manager Roe O’Donnell said the high speeds offered by RST would be a benefit for both residents and businesses.

“From an economic development standpoint, it makes us attractive for businesses that need very high-speeds,” he said.

At a top speed of one gigabit, the RST connection would be 20 times faster than the download speed advertised in Time Warner Cable’s ultimate package and 200 times faster than the upload speed.

RST is quoting a price of $99-per-month for residential service. Limerick said he expects tiered pricing would be available, so that residents could choose slower speeds for less money.

In addition to talking with RST, the town has approached existing providers about how to bring high-speed services to Wake Forest but with little response, said Dan Holt, a member of the town’s task force.

Officials also have talked with Google, which announced it might bring gigabit service to Raleigh and several surrounding municipalities earlier this year. Wake Forest was not on that list because officials did not originally apply for consideration several years ago.

O’Donnell said that while the talks with Google went fine, town officials didn’t leave with anything they could count on.

“They weren’t unhelpful, but they weren’t promising us anything,” he said.

Some details remain to be ironed out about how and where RST would operate in Wake Forest before a deal is final.

Town officials have released a survey to gauge residents’ experiences with their current providers. RST also would need to conduct beta testing and lay additional cable before offering service to a wide swath of town.

Limerick said that once the details are final, he expects service would be up and running within months, not years.

“When we commit and come to an agreement to do something, it will happen very quickly,” he said.

Limerick expects the company would provide services using two models: running fiber cables all the way to homes and businesses and using wireless transmitters for the “last mile” between its network and individual customers.

Holt, who started a website called Wake Forest Fiber last year to jumpstart interest in improving broadband, said he’s thrilled with RST’s interest and thinks they’re the right fit for the town.

“They’re a small, private company,” he said. “They’re from a small town, they get the atmosphere.”

The town survey is available at wakeforestnc.gov/fiber-to-the-home-survey.aspx. Wake Forest Fiber also is tracking residents’ interest at wakeforestfiber.com.

Barr: 919-836-4952; Twitter: @barrmsarah

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