Chatham County needs high speed rural broadband for business to thrive and grow

By Tarus Balog

Pittsboro, NC – I am seriously considering a run for the State House as an independent single issue candidate: high speed rural broadband.

rual broadband internetWhile we as a society don’t want to admit it, manufacturing jobs are not coming back. Automation is advancing at such a rate that robots will be doing most of them, and even if a large company were to buy one of these megasites, the number of jobs they would bring with them will be significantly less than in the past, but with the same negative impact on the character of the surrounding area.

The days of the “company town” are gone.

What will not go away is the need for humans in certain jobs, and I think Chatham County boasts a great number of talented people who just need to reach a larger audience in order to make a good living. The way to do that is with the Internet.

Unfortunately, none of the big players like Centurylink or Spectrum really care about bringing true, reliable broadband to most of the County (for example, my business partner who lives in Chapel Ridge enjoys 300MB from Spectrum while the best I can get is 10MB from Centurylink). Thus if Chatham County is going to do it, we’ll have to do it on our own.

Our wonderful leadership in Raleigh, many in the pocket of the communications lobby, passed HB 129 back in 2011 which forbids municipalities from providing their own network services. My first task would be to have that repealed, and I believe I could stir up enough popular sentiment via the ubiquity of social networks to embarrass them into doing it.

Once that is done, I would set up a fund to allow for cities and counties to borrow money for the infrastructure needed to insure high speed network access to everyone in the county. I would prefer a fiber infrastructure but reliable wireless options may be available by that time. Chatham is the 20th county by size in North Carolina, so it is no easy task to make sure everyone gets access.

Then I would help set up a company to provide services on that infrastructure, even offering commercial vendors use of it for a fee, with the aim of becoming profitable while still providing affordable service. My goal would be to have most if not all of the funds borrowed for the infrastructure returned to the State.

This could serve as a model for all the counties in North Carolina.

Once broadband is available, there are a number of jobs that could be done from anywhere in the county, even from home. One thing that will be hard to automate is customer service. Rather than have calls routed to a call center outside the country where you might have to interact with someone who doesn’t speak English very well or doesn’t really understand your problem, you could talk to someone here, home of the friendliest people on Earth.

I fly a lot on American Airlines. When they closed the Tuscon call center, they offered a number of employees the option to continue working from home. I like it because when I call it tends to be quiet (no background noise) and they like it because there is no commute and they can better manage their time. It may not be everyone’s dream job, but it does provide for income without having to radically change the atmosphere of the community.

I also run into a number of people in technology who live in Silicon Valley but envy my farm and my solitude. We could attract those people who can work from anywhere as long as they have broadband.

In the meantime, if I were in charge in Chatham, I would take all of this effort focused on the megasites and focus more on supporting small businesses in the county.

For example, every December we have a wonderful Artists Studio Tour. What if we could make it easier for all artists to sell their work?

I would create an online marketplace, sort of like Etsy, but focused on Chatham products.

Then I would rent some of the wonderful space available in Siler City, which is pretty much in the center of the county, and set up a system where people could take high resolutions pictures of their products as well as handle orders, shipping and distribution.

For example. Let’s say you were a potter. You could bring some of your work to Siler City, where there would be booths set up with high resolution cameras where you could take stunning pictures. We would then automate the process of putting those pictures on the marketplace website, and allow you to add descriptions, etc. The space would have an area to store the items, as well as package and ship them. When someone orders off the website, the item could be packed and shipped without the potter having to get involved – they can be focused on making more art.

The cost of the website and the employees needed to help run it, take pictures and ship items would come out of a small but reasonable commission.

This doesn’t need to focus on art, it could include any product made in Chatham (soap, cheese, etc.). I am confident that we have so much talent here that it would become a “go to” place for people looking for the best things.

I just wanted to post this to let the three people who actually make it to the end of my long rants to understand that I do care about our home, and my criticism of the megasites arises out of that. There are other options if we just gain the courage to pursue them.