Summerville area's Nexton to be first 'gigabit' community in South Carolina

Get ready because the Internet is about to get a lot faster for some of the region's newest residents.

The Nexton project - a planned 4,500-acre mixed-use community on the northeast side of Summerville - will be the first in South Carolina to meet a federal challenge to provide the fastest, highest-capacity broadband connections.

MWV Community Development and Land Management announced the program Wednesday, saying every part of the site near Interstate 26 and Highway 17A will be wired end-to-end with fiber-optic technology from project partner Home Telecom.

The service will be marketed as "GigaFi" and promoted as the most technologically advanced community in the region.

How fast will it be? The Federal Communications Commission has defined gigabit communities as those that offer one gigabit-per-second service, or about 100 times faster than the average fixed high-speed Internet connection.

The service is already available for commercial businesses, which will be among the first to move into Nexton. The first residence is not expected to be finished until the end of next year, on a pace toward more than 9,000 housing units expected to come.

Companies that want to move large data-rich files quickly, such as medical reports or engineering studies, would be ideal users. It will be ultra-fast.

The offering "really puts South Carolina on the map as a state ready to support the growth of tech development businesses," said Ken Seeger, president of MWV Community Development.

Nexton has already been chosen as the future home base for the South Carolina Research Authority.

The private user cost wasn't immediately available. Gina Austin, marketing director for Moncks Corner-based Home Telecom, said she anticipates the retail price being at less than $150 a month for residential service, while the service's business rates were still being developed.

"We don't want to offer this and set a price too high for anyone to be able to purchase," she said.

Speed and capacity are becoming bigger issues for both Internet providers and their customers, as more people download videos, photographs, TV shows, games and other data that chew through bandwidth. Speed is also being encouraged by the government. At a U.S. Conference of Mayors meeting this year, then-Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski called for at least one gigabit community in all 50 states by 2015.

"American economic history teaches a clear lesson about infrastructure. If we build it, innovation will come," the commission said of the demands and the future.

"The U.S. needs a critical mass of gigabit communities nationwide so that innovators can develop next-generation applications and services that will drive economic growth and global competitiveness."

Every entity within the Nexton footprint, including businesses, schools, medical facilities, engineering labs, libraries, commercial enterprises, and residents, will have access.

Project supporters listed three distinct advantages of Gigabit Internet service, according to their press materials.

First: broader bandwidth accommodates the ever-increasing amount of data that travels over the Internet. Secondly, it is as much as 100 times faster than average Internet services today.

Lastly, "it is symmetrical, which enables users to send information at the same speed at which they receive it," media documents said. "Presently, on average, uploading information to the Internet in South Carolina is only one-fifth as fast as downloading information."

William S. Helmly, Home Telecom's president and chief operating officer, said the advantage of the technology is that while many broadband firms might boast about their fiber optic networks, "what they don't tell you is that while those fiber networks may be in your neighborhood, their connections to your business or home are much slower because they are nonfiber."

Helmly made the comparison that since a communications chain is only as strong as its weakest link, "you end up not getting the benefit of fiber-optic speed."

He added that Nexton is ahead of the curve.

"Nothing like it is being routinely offered in this state," he said.

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