Laurinburg, North Carolina, is considering opening its fiber-optic network to private providers.
It’s been over a year since the community contracted with a consultant to inventory the community’s assets and provide options for expanding its use to the private sector. Since then, community leaders have discussed looking for potential partners and have met with private providers. According to the Laurinburg Exchange, the city will likely release a Request for Proposals (RFQ) as a way to let providers know they are interested in investigating ways to make excess capacity available.
Community leaders believe providers could make use of the publicly owned fiber for fixed wireless service, lease fiber for business Internet access and telephone services, web hosting, and other services. City Manager Charles Nichols said:
“The city has the capability to offer all those services now; we know this is an asset to this community and we’re trying our best to figure out a way to utilize it.”
Laurinburg already connects ten entities with its network, including County facilities, schools, healthcare clinics and hospitals, the airport, and several local businesses. Community leaders want to spur economic development by offering high-quality connectivity in Laurinburg to more businesses.
Tapping An Existing Resource
The city deployed its fiber-optic network in the mid-1990s to improve communications between city hall and its public works facilities. It later leased excess capacity to other public entities, including several facilities that obtained Internet access and data transmission through School Link. As the city has expanded network footprint, it now consists of a 100-mile ring that surrounds the county.
Laurinburg prevailed in a lawsuit commenced by BellSouth in the early 2000s when the provider argued the city had no authority to operate the system. When the trial and appellate courts examined the prevailing statute and the technology in place, however, both found for the city. Since then, state law has changed but Laurinburg’s right to operate its system is grandfathered in; they are still, however, subject to the state prohibition on expansion
The city is the seat of Scotland County, located near the South Carolina border southwest of Fayetteville. Approximately 16,000 people live in the city where the Scotland Correctional Institution and St. Andrews University are two important employers.
The city council will revisit the idea of an RFQ again in March.