Ever heard of Salisbury, North Carolina? Well, it’s now on the map as the first in the nation to offer 10 gigabit-per-second-internet connections to its citizens. The new service, revealed yesterday, is nearly 1,000 times as fast as the average internet connection in the US. A local private college is the first customer to receive the service.
Today, few people can take advantage of even a one-gigabit connection, let alone 10 gigabits. Google, for example, floated the idea of a 10-gigabit service last year, but has remained focused on rolling out its 1-gigabit Google Fiber service first.
As big broadband providers stall their deployments of high speed fiber optic internet connections, city governments across the country are picking up the slack.
So what does Salisbury—a town of 33,000 nestled between North Carolina’s capital Charlotte and the state’s Research Triangle—need with a 10-gigabit internet service? For one, it could be a boon to businesses. Salisbury is home to the corporate headquarters of the southern supermarket chain Food Lion and the soft drink company Carolina Beverage Corporation, best known as the maker of Cheerwine. And colleges can always use more bandwidth students flock back to school this month.
But more to the point, Salisbury, which launched a 1-gigabit service last year, says it has its sights set on the future. “With consumer bandwidth consumption doubling every two years, Salisbury businesses and residents will require increasingly higher broadband speeds in order to have the highest quality broadband experience,” the city says.
Well, maybe. Despite rising demands for bandwidth, there’s still little to suggest that residential users need that much broadband capacity, says journalist Andrew Blum, who documented the physical infrastructure of the internet in his book Tubes. “It’s almost impossible to push that much traffic, so the ISPs don’t need to worry too much about their backhaul (their connection to the rest of the Internet),” he tells us in an email. “I think anything beyond 100MB can be understood as a publicity stunt—and a good one!”
Cities Leading the Way
Still, Salisbury’s new service shows how city governments are leading the way when it comes to high-speed internet connections. And ultra-high–speed connectivity could help accelerate the adoption of single gigabit connections, pushing the rest of the industry into the modern era and encouraging the development of new applications that can actually take advantage of those speeds.
Even as companies like Verizon have stalled their deployments of high speed fiber optic internet connections, city governments across the country are picking up the slack. Chattanooga, Tennessee, was among the first to bring their citizens gigabit internet speeds back in 2010, and many others have followed. There are now over 40 communities in 13 states offering gigabit speeds, according to the non-profit Community Broadband Networks.
Meanwhile, private internet service providers are finally starting to catch up. Google Fiber is now available in three cities, with at least four more on the way. CenturyLink, the nation’s third-largest telco, is offering gigabit fiber connections in select neighborhoods in several cities. And Comcast has promised to offer gigabit speeds over traditional cable lines by next year.
But rollouts from commercial providers have proven to be slow and are often more expensive than municipal services. And as Salisbury shows, even small towns aren’t going wait for the lumbering giants of the internet to start offering speeds that reflect the way the internet works now.
Correction 9/4/2015 1:45 PM ET: An earlier version of this story stated that Salisbury was in the Research Triangle. It’s actually closer to Charlotte.