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Wednesday, 07 March 2012 21:38

Shopping for a high-speed fiber network to call your own?

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Selling off a high-speed internet system of fiber optic lines in Sylva that belonged to the now-defunct Metrostat Communications is coming up short.

The 10-year-old company provided Sylva high-speed Internet and phone service until going under late last year. Metrostat had about $250,000 in outstanding economic development loans with Jackson County and town of Sylva.

Metrostat had put up its fiber optic lines as collateral. The county and town are in process of selling off those fiber lines — but it appears even if they manage to sell them they won’t recoup the full balance owed on the loan. Metrostat’s former system also includes towers that provide high-speed internet service via wireless signals to customers many miles away.

Frontier Communications Co. recently notified Sylva town leaders that the company isn’t interested in making an offer on Metrostat’s network after all. That would appear to leave BalsamWest FiberNET, a joint venture funded by the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians and Macon County businessman Phil Drake, as the most likely buyer of the defunct company’s assets.

BalsamWest has a 300-mile network of fiber optic lines in the far west designed to bring high-speed access not otherwise available in rural, remote counties. While BalsamWest provides a backbone, the cost of building the “last mile” to businesses wanting to hook on to the high-speed lines has proven a hurdle, and as a result the network hasn’t been tapped as well as it could.

Metrostat’s network of fiber through Sylva’s central business district and wireless towers reaching outlying areas could bring solve some of those “last mile” issues and bring new customers to BalsamWest’s table.

Ironically, Metrostat owners Robin and John Kevlin cited BalsamWest’s combination of grant-funded, public-private partnership that enabled the company to run high-speed fiber lines through rural mountain counties as a major reason for Metrostat’s demise. The large-scale nature of the telecom business made it difficult for small start-ups serving only hyper-local areas.

The county was hoping to unload the entire network, which also includes towers to deliver high-speed internet signals wirelessly to customers several miles away, but might reconsider.

“I’ve recommended we sell this entire enterprise rather than break it into components,” County Manager Chuck Wooten told Jackson County commissioners this week. “But, maybe it would be best to break out some parts.”

Cashiers Chalet Inn owner George Ware has asked commissioners to let him lease a tower on Kings Mountain that once beamed out high-speed wireless internet service so he could provide internet to his guests.

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