As companies like Google and AT&T bring fiber-optic Internet access to North Carolina’s largest cities, a High Point-based regional provider is focusing on areas where the big players aren’t.
“A lot of the markets we’re going into are smaller towns and cities and not really NFL and NHL cities,” said Derek Kelly, vice president of market development at fiber-optic internet company Lumos. “What we should look at is: where are the homes that do not have fiber service today?”
In the past six months, Lumos (formerly NorthState) launched fiber Internet networks in Goldsboro, Mebane and Burlington. On Monday, the company celebrated its entry into the town of Clayton in Johnston County. He plans to build in neighboring Harnett County.
NorthState began laying fiber around High Point in the mid-2000s. The company changed names in August 2022 after merging with Virginia provider Lumos. At the same time, the startup announced its ambition to offer fiber internet access to more than 1 million homes in the next five years.
The rapidly growing bedroom communities around Raleigh and Durham are key to this goal.
“(Residents) see that new neighborhoods in and around Clayton have received fiber in recent years from some of the incumbents, but in the downtown Clayton area, many of the existing homes have simply been overlooked” Kelly said.
In addition to North Carolina, Lumos also operates in Virginia and South Carolina. Its existing Tar Heel State service areas include Asheboro, Lexington and Kernersville, as well as parts of Winston-Salem and Greensboro. In April, the company pledged to invest $56 million to build in and around coastal New Hanover County, home to Wilmington.
Fiber optic connection promises considerably faster speeds than traditional broadband.
In addition to speed, one of the main considerations for Internet customers is price. Lumos currently offers its 500 megabits per second package for $60 per month and its 1 gig plan for $80 per month (each with a $10 per month credit for the first year). For comparison, Google Fiber sells its 1-pack Gig Plan for $70 a month.
Excavation sparks local frustrations, halts construction
The drilling that Internet providers undertake to lay fiber cables has caused local problems, and Lumos is no exception.
When Google and AT&T initially installed their fiber optic lines in 2015, residents across the Triangle complained about contract workers hitting gas, water and sewer lines. After making initial gains, especially in Cary and Morrisville, Google halted its expansion, which it recently resumed. While Google says it has improved the way it installs cables, the Internet provider still acknowledges that “construction can be disruptive.”
Like Google Fiber, Lumos receives local permits to drill in public rights-of-way, which often run along parcels of land between sidewalks and residential streets. The company says its rigs drill about a meter into the ground using a method that “requires no trenching and has minimal impact.”
However, in November of this year, the Columbia, South Carolina, fire department ordered Lumos to cease all work in the city after the company’s subcontractors reportedly caused half a dozen gas leaks.
“They came like a wrecking ball,” the president of a Columbia neighborhood association told The State. “They didn’t make a good first impression here.”
In a statement to The News & Observer, the company said: “In all the markets we serve, our teams work closely with city/town officials and local utility companies to prevent damage and problems and resolve any outstanding issues.”