Business Editor

Gigabit service in Comporium’s ‘sweet spot’

dworthington@heraldonline.comFebruary 16, 2014 

The future of South Carolina’s economy – wears sneakers?

State Secretary of Commerce Bobby Hitt couldn’t help but notice that in a sea of suits and ties, one of the speakers following him wore sneakers, white Converse Chuck Taylors.

The sneakers belonged to Jason Broadwater of Rock Hill. Broadwater explained he had them on because he coaches his son’s basketball team.

Those who know Broadwater were not surprised. The owner of Revenflo, a marketing and web development company, and co-founder of the Hive Business Center for Winthrop University and York Tech students, Broadwater has a relaxed demeanor but a mind that’s racing at full speed.

Broadwater was also there to talk about speed – Comporium’s decision to bring gigabit Internet service to Rock Hill. So, too, were Hitt, Rock Hill Mayor Doug Echols and a host of Comporium officials, none more distinguished and certainly none taller than Bryant Barnes, the company’s president and CEO.

Barnes noted that his family’s company, which once was Rock Hill’s telephone company, has been investing in the city for more than 100 years. Last year Comporium announced a new project at Fountain Park Place, a four-story downtown office building.

That project, he said, was “out of our comfort zone.” The Internet announcement was “more in our sweet spot,” as Comporium has been offering Internet service since 1993. At that time, the state-of-the-art Internet speed was 29 kilobytes, but the average residential Internet speed now is 5.8 megabits, 200 times faster than the 1993 speed.

The Zipstream service to be offered by Comporium will be 85 times faster than what’s now in place, allowing people to watch up to five high-definition television channels at one time and surf the Internet or download a high-definition movie in less than two minutes.

The initial service area for gigabit service will be downtown and in the Knowledge Park where the goal is redevelopment of the city’s once-bustling textile corridor. The vision for the Knowledge Park is attracting high-tech companies, companies that need to upload and download lots of data quickly via the Internet. Zipstream will meet their demands.

Comporium plans to spend nearly $1 million to install new fiber optic cables, new switches and other needed equipment to offer the high-speed service. Once operational, Rock Hill will be one of only a handful of cities in the U.S. with gigabit service for residential and business customers.

Just two days after Comporium’s announcement, Google announced it is working on a 10 gigabit service.

That’s 10 gigabits per second, 10 times faster than what it already delivers to customers of its Google fiber service in the Kansas City area, one of the pioneering cities in gigabit technology.

Patrick Pichette, chief financial officer for Google, said it could take as long as 10 years to create the technology, but Google hopes to deliver it in as few as three years.

Other cable companies such as Comcast and Time Warner have said that while gigabit speeds are possible and in demand from some businesses, there isn’t the residential demand to support it.

Nonetheless, Comporium has seen what gigabit speed can do, and the benefits “are real,” said Matt Dosch, the company’s vice president for external relations.

Hitt is a believer too. “This town cares about the future,” he said, and is a hot spot for innovation, citing Comporium and 3D Systems.

For Broadwater, the move to gigabit service represents the latest diversification of Rock Hill’s economy. He compared it to when the railroad came to Rock Hill. “Today’s Internet is a new railroad and Comporium is building us a depot,” Broadwater said.

He also noted that the lifeline for the city’s economy was once the interstate. Now it’s the Internet, he said.

That’s where Broadwater and Hitt politely part company. Hitt said the Internet complements the interstates. A good road system is still essential for the state’s manufacturing economy, which offers the most jobs and pays a goodly portion of taxes.

How to tax technology and creativity is something state and local governments are still working on. It’s easy to tax machines and inventory. But what’s the value of intellectual property or software that is hosted here but available in the cloud?

As the snow accumulated outside, those who lingered after the announcement chided the press that the real story of the day was the announcement, not the snow.

Hitt knew differently. He is a former newspaperman, and some printer’s ink still courses through his veins. He knew the headlines of the day would be of snow.

But the gigabit announcement, that was the story of the future.

Don Worthington •  803-329-4066, dworthington@heraldonline.com

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