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Want Google Fiber? Why Wait? Shelby Company Says It Has Wired The State

RST Fiber

Google is still considering if it will bringing its ultra-high speed internet to cities like Charlotte. But if you don’t want to wait, you may not have to. This week, a small North Carolina Company announced it has already built a similar fiber optic network across the entire state. The company is called RST Fiber and we take a look at what they offer and one of the men behind it.

There’s a funny thing about entrepreneurs, at their heart they’re all about one thing. Finding creative solutions to daunting problems - whatever they may be. Take the stunt Dan Limerick pulled off in tenth grade English. Report cards were about to come out and Dan Limerick was getting a D.  His father would not be pleased. 

So the 16 year old Limerick did what few 16 year olds would think to do.  He and a friend called up a famous author living nearby and asked if they could interview him.  The year was 1964, that author was Pulitzer prize winning poet Carl Sandburg.  So Limerick and a friend, dressed in suits and ties and armed with a reel-to-reel recorder headed over to Sandburg's house.  "We asked him some real stupid questions being 16, what do you think of the Beatles.  And he said I’ve never heard of the (expletive) Beatles!"  So Limerick and his friend were treated to a private reading of some of Sandburg's poetry, and asked more questions. "He was a real interesting character and drove back to our teacher's house and said here’s the interview with Mr. Sandberg and she almost fell over dead.”  Limerick says their stunt worked.  That D turned into a B.

Dan Limerick has used those problem solving skills quite a lot since then. He’s made a fortune in plastics.  He’s in his mid 60’s and could easily just sit back and retire. Instead he’s partnered with two other Shelby natives to create RST Fiber.  They started the company and its fiber optic network not in Silicon Valley but in their hometown  with the idea of staying localized.  Limerick says he and his partners wanted to "help the local economy any way we could because the whole area had been devastated by the textile exodus."

Soon they were expanding beyond Shelby to Cleveland County as a whole.  Then they started to think bigger. "Basically going from Manteo to Murphy" and all areas in between says Limerick. 

In all they laid more than 3,000 miles of fiber optic cable, burying it underground along roadways and through cities and towns. Where they could they bought so called “Dark Fiber,” compatible networks that were already in place but not being used. They say they've created a statewide network that can provide one gigabit connections to consumers and 100 gigabit connections to businesses.  That’s at least 100 times faster that what you have now.

If it works as the company claims, what they created is a cutting edge behemoth of a physical backbone that dwarfs even what Google is considering.  It cost tens of millions of dollars to create. All personally financed by Limerick and his partners.  Now if that cost seems surprisingly low to you it is.  Unlike Google, RST doesn’t want to connect every home and business with an actual wire.  They want to do it wirelessly.  First they run fiber to cell towers where they have installed powerful wireless transmitters. "If you are within a mile and a half  of that cell tower, you will be able to receive a one gigabit symmetrical connection" says Limerick.

But it doesn’t stop there. Each of RST’s wireless routers, what would be installed in homes and offices, connects with other routers to increase the networks range. "It grows like a spiderweb, as more people come on the more the network grows and larger it gets."

And for those who want to get on this gigabit network, right now it will cost you $99.95 a month for internet access. Its those subscription fees that RST hopes will make it a profit. In a month or so, they plan on rolling out a TV service similar to cable bundles offered by the likes of Time Warner. 

As to the number of customers RST has right now that number isn’t going to wow you. Limerick says they currently have 200 customers on their network.

Those 200 people have been, in essence, testing this new fiber network for bugs. But now RST is rolling out to more and more each day. Limerick says the Charlotte area should start seeing service in 30 to 45 days.  Only after the number of users grows from the hundreds to the thousands - or more – will we know if Dan Limerick and RST network works as well as they say it will.  And if North Carolina really is the first gigabit state.

WFAE's Tom Bullock talks with All Things Considered host Mark Rumsey about RST Fiber and how their network works.

Tom Bullock decided to trade the khaki clad masses and traffic of Washington DC for Charlotte in 2014. Before joining WFAE, Tom spent 15 years working for NPR. Over that time he served as everything from an intern to senior producer of NPR’s Election Unit. Tom also spent five years as the senior producer of NPR’s Foreign Desk where he produced and reported from Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, Haiti, Egypt, Libya, Lebanon among others. Tom is looking forward to finally convincing his young daughter, Charlotte, that her new hometown was not, in fact, named after her.