Future Tense

This North Carolina City Offers Ultrafast Internet As an Alternative to the Usual Options

Fiber installation in Manila, Philippines, in 2014.

Photo by Noel Celis/AFP/Getty Images

In Salisbury, North Carolina, if you’re fed up with one of the big national Internet service providers, you don’t have to throw your modem against a wall and then call a friend to rant. You can actually … switch providers. It might sound too foreign to understand, but Salisbury has offered municipal, fiber Internet called Fibrant that’s reasonably priced and speedy for the past year.

How fast is it? Fibrant announced Thursday that it is now offering 10-gigabit-per-second speeds. That’s 10 times faster than Google Fiber and roughly 1,000 times faster than the average U.S. Internet connection.

Ars Technica reports that the initiative started five years ago to help make Salisbury attractive to businesses. Fibrant director of broadband and infrastructure Kent Winrich told Ars, “We knew to be competitive we needed faster Internet. … We went to the incumbents [in 2009] and asked them if they had any plans to make a faster network and they said, ‘no,’ We went back to them and said, ‘Well, if we pay you will you do it?’ They said, ‘no.’ ”

In many states, cities want to lay fiber or already have, but anti-competitive legislation keeps them from providing municipal broadband. North Carolina has a similar regulation, but Salisbury was lucky because it wasn’t passed until 2011 so it didn’t apply. (The law is also currently being disputed in court, and if it is overturned programs like Fibrant would be able to spread throughout the state.)

Though the blazing 10 Gbps speed is awesome, it’s probably overkill for the average individual. (In 2013, Farhad Manjoo wrote on Slate that he didn’t even know what people would do with 1 Gbps.) Ars notes that the city expects this top speed to mainly be a draw for businesses. But having the bandwidth means that when everyone in the area starts streaming video after dinner, Fibrant will be able to handle the strain.

Salisbury isn’t the very first city in the U.S. to offer these speeds, but it is on the front lines of trying to bring municipal ISP alternatives to the marketplace. There’s a lot of untapped potential, and just straight up installed but unused fiber, out there.