The Biz

Shedding tiers: Asheville bandwidth to go big time

Asheville will soon take a giant leap forward on the information superhighway that will make the area more attractive to high-tech businesses.

AT&T’s direct optical-fiber connection between Asheville and Atlanta, slated for completion by the end of the year, will boost the area’s Internet bandwidth capabilities, moving the city from Tier 3 to Tier 2 broadband status. That should prove helpful in recruiting and retaining high-tech companies and large firms that require huge Internet capacity and speed.

The Asheville metro area would be the smallest such area in the nation to have such status. Other nearby metropolitan areas with Tier 2 status include Charlotte, Greenville/Spartanburg, Greensboro/Winston-Salem and Raleigh/Durham. Nationally, approximately 44 cities and metro areas have Tier 2 status. (The 20 or so Tier 1 locations, in some of the nation’s largest cities, form the nation’s Internet backbone and are where bandwidth connections originate. Atlanta, which will connect directly to Asheville through At&T’s line, is a Tier 1 city.)

Netriplex gets first dibs

Netriplex, a global datacenter that relocated its headquarters this year from Boston to Asheville’s Biltmore Park, says it will become the first company to take advantage of AT&T’s direct line.

“Getting this size pipe into our Asheville data center makes it equal in connectivity to our locations in Boston and Atlanta,” explains Netriplex Chief Technology Officer Jonathan Hoppe. The OC-192 optical-fiber circuit being installed will carry up to 10 gigabits per second of Internet traffic, which Hoppe says is akin to downloading 10 copies of the entire holdings of the Library of Congress and is roughly equivalent to 7,000 T1 lines with the capacity to serve at least 25,000 average businesses.

Netriplex Chief Operating Officer John Thompson tells Xpress that high bandwidth connections now must go through so many routing points that it degrades speed and quality. While that’s OK for most companies and residential customers, it can be a deal-breaker for companies with intense bandwidth needs. “[The connecton] goes through all kinds of small towns and cities to get here and it’s not great,” he says. “By putting this point-to-point circuit in, we’ll be able to get a lot more bandwidth … and we’ll also get a lot better performance. Now we’ve got one hop, so to speak, between here and Atlanta as opposed to, in some cases, 10 or 20 [routing points].”

Coupled with Netriplex’s geographic security, this now makes Asheville the best choice in the country for storing electronic data securely and economically, Thompson says. “A lot of businesses we were looking at said, ‘Nah, I don’t want to have my servers in your facility in Asheville because it’s a Tier 3 city. This changes that significantly. It’ll make it far more attractive to our prospective customers.”

Asheville is already deemed desirable for high-tech companies such as Netriplex because it’s geographical location makes it less prone to disasters and terrorist attacks. In fact, Asheville’s location was a major reason Netriplex relocated here. That security, coupled with Tier 2 status, should make the area even more desirable for high-tech businesses in coming years.

By next spring, Netriplex may well start investigating the possibility of offering local companies and Internet service providers the ability to tap into their Internet pipeline. Those other businesses, however, don’t have to wait for Netriplex; they can also lease line space directly from AT&T. But for companies that do not need such enormous capacity and speed, the cost can be prohibitive—upwards of $250,000 a year, Thompson says. “If other businesses in the area needed huge capacity to the Internet, they certainly could do exactly what we’re doing. It can be expensive, but it becomes economical in the large quantities [that we require].” Despite the steep price, Netriplex’s economies of scale, coupled with the vast increase in speed, quality and capacity, will actually reduce the company’s bandwidth cost, which Thompson says should be between 10 to 20 times less expensive than now.

At its recent meeting, the Asheville HUB Alliance leadership signaled its strong commitment to a new initiative: a collaborative climate institute in Asheville that would be a key component of the new national climate program the federal government is developing.

The institute’s mission would stem from the region’s existing strengths in climate-data research, education and visualization, as well as related fields. Existing and emerging partnerships involving NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center, UNCA, the University of North Carolina General Administration, Oak Ridge National Lab, Renaissance Computing Institute, the U.S. Forest Service’s Southern Research Station, ERC Broadband, A-B Tech, Montreat College, Warren Wilson College, the Media Arts Project and others also help form a strong foundation for the initiative.

The strategic goals are to attract significant federal investment, create the infrastructure for a collaborative climate institute, broaden climate-related educational opportunities, exploit promising business niches, and build public awareness of Asheville’s place in the global-climate arena.

“Every sector of the economy is affected by climate, and Asheville’s climate opportunity is to relate climate change to the needs of customers,” said Bob Melville, a consultant who is assisting HUB and working on the climate initiative. “Asheville should boldly pursue a collaborative climate institute not only to preserve its investment in the National Climatic Data Center, but to bring the community additional high-quality jobs in technology, education and applied sciences as well.”

Currently, a comprehensive business plan is being developed for the climate initiative, and project resources are being assembled and organized.

The Internal Revenue Service has unveiled a special new section on its Web site ( for people who have lost their homes due to foreclosure. The IRS also reassures homeowners that, although mortgage workouts and foreclosures can have tax consequences, special relief provisions can often reduce or eliminate the tax bite for financially strapped borrowers who lose their homes.

The new section of includes a variety of information, including a worksheet designed to help borrowers determine whether any of the foreclosure-related relief provisions apply to them. For those taxpayers who find they owe additional tax, it also includes a form they can use to request a payment agreement with the IRS. In some cases, eligible taxpayers may qualify to settle their tax debt for less than the full amount due using an offer-in-compromise.

Under the tax law, if the debt wiped out through foreclosure exceeds the value of the property, the difference is normally taxable income. But a special rule allows insolvent borrowers to offset that income to the extent their liabilities exceed their assets.



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