The direct fiber optic pipe will allow fast-paced exchange of data. For example, a prisoner being held at the county jail in Hazelwood can have a video arraignment with a judge sitting in the justice center across town. The fiber optic network links government buildings for the town of Waynesville as well, allowing employees in scattered office buildings to download and upload files from the main server as if they were all in the same building.
“Before they had this small, constricting pipe, and it was just really, really bad,” said Jimmy Wynn, whose telecommunications company WynnComm installed the fiber network.
The fiber optic line was subsidized by a grant from E-NC, a state initiative to improve high-speed Internet in rural areas. Advantage West was the grant recipient for the project.
Luring private companies to run fiber optic networks in rural areas isn’t easy. Companies aren’t sure they will get enough customers to justify the expense of running the fiber optic lines, said John Howell, a telecommunications consultant in Haywood County who project managed the grant on behalf of Advantage West. That’s why a grant was needed to subsidize the fiber optic line.
As extra incentive, the county and the town signed a 20-year contract with WynnComm for network services, including data and phone.
“The fact the county and the town were pledging to be our first customers on that line made it feasible,” Wynn said. “If it hadn’t been for the town and the county, even though there were monies there from the grant, it would not have happened.”
The fiber optic line runs from the jail in Hazelwood to the Haywood Community College High Tech Center on the Old Asheville Highway, picking up schools and government buildings along the way — town public works department, county election office, board of education, town recreation center, the library, and Waynesville Middle School to name a few.
“There were a lot of buildings we wanted to make sure the route passed,” Howell said.
When it reaches the High Tech Center, the line ties in with an existing fiber optic cable installed by HCC that connects the High Tech Center with its main campus, adding extra miles to the fiber network route.
“Now any business along that route could tie in,” Howell said. “The network is there.”
Businesses would have to buy service from WynnComm to get on the line. WynnComm isn’t the only game in town. High-speed fiber network services are already available, but there are only a couple options on the market.
“The idea here was to get more providers and more competition to drive down cost,” Wynn said. So now there’s one more option.
The Haywood County project was one of four AdvantageWest projects completed with a $1.5 million grant from E-NC.
One project installed a 60- to 70-mile fiber optic loop through Mitchell and Yancey counties. Another fiber optic loop was installed through Rutherford and Polk counties. All the new fiber networks tie into a main highway at the Federal Building in Asheville.
“The federal building in Asheville is connected to everybody in the world,” Howell said. “So that’s the end game, to get everybody back to that building.”
The fourth component was a co-location hub at Western Carolina University to link fiber optic networks of several private telecomm companies that had laid various fiber routes through the region: DukeNet, Verizon, MetroStat, Balsam West, ERC and Mediacom.
“They were crisscrossing each other but none of them were handing off,” Howell said. “So we built a connection site to get them all holding hands.”