CARY - A private company could run ultra-fast Internet access across Cary.
Thats the eventual goal of a regional effort that the Cary Town Council will consider on Thursday.
A yes vote would put Cary on board with governments and universities from Raleigh to Winston-Salem. Together, they hope to find a private partner who would build a gigabit network, in part by using existing fiber-optic lines, underground conduits and data centers.
Even in downtown Cary, its hard for a small business to get ... a really high-speed connection without a lot of money, said Bill Stice, technology director for Cary. The whole idea here is to provide it at a reasonable cost.
The N.C. Next Generation Network would include Cary, Carrboro, Chapel Hill, Durham, Raleigh and Winston-Salem, along with several universities Duke, N.C. State, Wake Forest and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
The municipalities and universities have worked for months to lay out a business case for a private company to build a network 10 to 100 times faster than typical residential and business Internet service.
This week, the Cary council will decide whether to sign onto the joint request for proposals, which the regional alliance crafted with the help of Gig.U, a national campaign to jumpstart high-speed Internet development.
Gig.U is what we consider the biggest
experiment in broadband in the country, said Ellen Satterwhite, program director for the project, which is part of the nonprofit Aspen Institute.
Improvement of Internet speeds in the Triangle and across the country has stalled, Satterwhite said, because the biggest players see no financial motive to improve their networks.
If you have a company like Comcast thats making 90 to 95 percent margins on this infrastructure, theres no incentive, she said.Businesses and homes
In North Carolina, Cary and its allies would expect their private partner to take on the cost of building out and operating the network, though the town would be able to chip in to lay new fiber.
Cary first hopes to provide high-speed digital access to office buildings, businesses, apartment complexes, schools, hospitals and government facilities.
The network also could be the backbone for a public wireless network downtown and, eventually, for residential service. The regional group as a whole also calls for free or discounted access for low-income areas.
The real emphasis was primarily for health care, governments and schools, but also, I would see it expanding into residential areas everywhere, said Stice, the towns technology director.
He and Cary staff have been attending Gig.U meetings since September, and hes optimistic that the regional alliance will find a private partner. The project is open to bids from established service providers and newcomers alike.
Until you ask the question, you dont know. When you start asking this question, something that inevitably happens is that people get interested, said Blair Levin, who is heading the national Gig.U project.
So far, his groups record is good: Four of the five regions to take action with Gig.U in the last 18 months now have broadband projects or plans under way, according to Gig.U.
The universities of Florida and Maine have rolled out the beginnings of networks that are faster than a typical local Internet provider, while Seattle and Chicago have plans for gigabit Internet with private partners.Few details
No one involved in the local effort is ready to predict an outcome or specific details, such as pricing or overall cost.
Joining the request for proposals would not bind Cary to continue with the project.
In this sense, the proposal is
a starting point for negotiations, said John Hodges-Copple, who is coordinating the regional effort. Its designed to indicate what either an individual firm, or it could be a consortium of firms, is prepared to offer.
The regional group hopes to have companies proposals in hand by April 1, with a contract signed by October.
If it goes forward, the Internet plan would be Carys second foray into public-private broadband. In 2000, the town hired a contractor to draw up the beginnings of a broadband network for the town.
The dot-com bust cut that plan short but the prospect of competition, Stice said, may have inspired the big boys to improve their offerings in a hurry.