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MEGAPOP initiative sees additional North Mississippi milestones

Milestones for North Mississippi continue to be reached along the information superhighway, allowing businesses, industries and rural access Internet service providers to merge into technology’s fast lane. The Mississippi Economic Growth Alliance and Point of Presence (MEGAPOP) now has the backbone build complete in Oktibbeha and Lowndes counties.

“The system has been up and running for a couple of weeks. It’s operational and we’re excited to have it happen,” said MEGAPOP president Morgan Baldwin. “People are pleased to have it.”

It took five years to get to this point. The latest additions join Oxford and Tupelo build completions. At this time, the system impacts larger users such as hospitals, universities and Internet retailers who resell service. Baldwin says the retailers, such as Dixie Net, will be in a position to help smaller businesses and homes access broadband.

Telepak Networks of Jackson is operating, marketing and managing the system for MEGAPOP as part of a larger network that will serve almost two-thirds of the state or 36 counties.

“Mississippi is our home, and we at Telepak Networks are elated to be involved in offering state-of-the-art broadband services to our businesses and residences,” said Telepak director of sales and marketing Phil Rice. “The MEGAPOP backbone network makes available broadband services that are technologically equivalent to or more advanced than anywhere else in the world. This results in a competitive service offer for customers and encourages other providers to update technologies in their networks.”

One of the new users, Oktibbeha County Hospital in Starkville, has increased its capabilities about three times, according to administrator Arthur C. Kelly.

“We’re striving to become one of the top wired hospitals in the country. We have an active IT department, and the new system is a way to transmit information and data very quickly,” he said. “There’s so much we can do with it. It will have many applications.”

Kelly said the backbone comes down the hospital’s street, making it accessible for the hospital and medical clinics who will tie into the system. The hospital is in the process of hooking up and should be using the system within a month.
The system will open up new opportunities for research at Mississippi State University. Dr. Dan Brook, head of computer applications and services for MSU’s Extension Service, is very excited about the possibilities.

“I feel like it will be a real boost for the region and provide a resource for more economic development and give us more opportunities,” he said. “We have 100 locations and connect to every county in the state.”

MSU has just begun putting production traffic on the network and has met with Telepak to work out procedures for the next couple of months. Brook hopes to reduce costs by connecting the Meridian Campus and the backbone in Tupelo. The system will also make it possible for MSU to tie in to the lambda rail, a very high-speed network for research purposes that is considered the next generation above Internet II.

According to Baldwin, another new user, Lagista, a Columbus company working with the banking industry, is getting three times the Internet capacity at half the cost. “We love hearing comments like that,” he said.

MEGAPOP is in conversation with several entities as to how to build the remaining infrastructure, hoping to facilitate more backbone and the system’s last mile. “Our ultimate goal is widespread broadband capacity at an affordable rate throughout North Mississippi,” Baldwin said. “We want to make sure the region is not left out.”

He added that the latest accomplishments are the beginning, not the end. MEGAPOP is now working on the education element and facilitating the build out of more infrastructure in the region.

“We want to make sure people understand why this is important, and we would love to see more infrastructure in five years,” he said. “That’s a hefty goal.”

The MEGAPOP initiative promises a wide range of benefits for the region and its residents in the way of economy, education, healthcare and local government. From an economic standpoint, each of the communities will be provided a better climate to strengthen economic development efforts through private enterprise, supply home offices with high-speed access, offer affordable rates for small businesses and high capacity for larger users.

Additionally, the MEGAPOP efforts allow expanding access for learning opportunities through distance learning, video conferencing and research capabilities.

Funding for the project has been acquired through Community Development Block Grants, the Appalachian Regional Commission, the Tennessee Valley Authority, the Department of Housing and Urban Development and through local sources.

Contact MBJ contributing Lynn Lofton at llofton656@aol.com.


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