Access to widespread, high-speed, always-on connectivity is a necessity for business and a boon to public safety, leaders involved in the evolution of the internet said Monday at “Fiber Transforms the Triangle,” a half-day conference presented by WRALTechWire at SAS.

WRAL TechWire team coverage of Fiber Transforms the Triangle:

  • Frontier bringing gigabit Internet to Durham
  • Execs: Fiber is the new highway
  • Execs: Hanging up on traditional phone service
  • Speed means opportunity for education, innovation, consumers
  • Blair Levin: Triangle well on its way to next-gen Internet
  • MCNC C EO: Fiber means exciting times – and challenges
  • AT&T exec: Fiber will transform the Triangle
  • AT&T ramps up speed, Wi-Fi in Austin – a precursor to Triangle

The conference brought together panels of service providers, government representatives and business leaders to discuss how the Triangle can leverage the inevitable advances fiber will bring.

Keith Collins, executive vice president and chief information officer at SAS, drew a laugh during introductory remarks when he described the state of the internet much like Daniel Boone’s trek across North Carolina.

“Can you visualize Daniel Boone, in his coonskin cap, walking from Hillsborough to the mountains of North Carolina? Is that how you feel at home on your network? Bushwhacking, and wondering if, as you traverse the next hill, you can make it through? That’s me trying to Skype at home,” Collins said.

He encouraged audience members to imagine the near-future when, instead, connectivity feels like the StarTrek holodeck, with speeds that allow for full immersion as you work with a team. “That’s fiber,” he said. “Speed. And not speed for speed’s sake, but instead to open three opportunities: innovation, education and community.”

Future workforce requires fiber flexibility

When CEOs get together in the Triangle, he said, the conversation about community turns quickly to talent retention and recruitment.

The ability to offer flex-time alternatives is important, said Joanne Rohde, CEO of Axial Exchange, for those who prefer to or must do their jobs at home and at night.

“We’re almost in talent curve similar to what we saw before the dot com build,” said Collins. “Today’s talent wants a flexible work arrangement. How can you offer this if you don’t have good home access at high speed? We can’t continue to have failure during audio meetings, with people repeatedly uttering ‘Can you say that again?’ The value of fiber will be seen in the always-on video framework at home. More productivity means that you can offer complete flexibility for employees, positively impacting recruitment.”

Governments see benefit of broadband

That level of connection has public safety benefits, pointed out Bill Stice, chief information officer for the Town of Cary.

In a crisis such as an Ebola outbreak, Stice said, a quarantine could require healthy workers to stay at home. The ability to work remotely could keep city services up and running.

Collins and Stice both ticked the box for telemedicine as an advantage of high-speed access. Ebola patients could see a doctor from home, lowering the risk of spreading infection, Collins said. Telemedicine helps the homebound, Stice said in pointing out that Cary’s greatest growth is coming among the senior citizen population.