CLARKSDALE — Clarksdale and Coahoma County residents will soon have high-speed Internet access thanks to a partnership between the Delta Regional Authority (DRA) and the Mississippi Technology Alliance (MTA).
Clarksdale is home to the national headquarters for the DRA, a federal-state partnership that covers 252 counties in eight states, including Mississippi. DRA developed the iDelta: Information Technology in the Delta program to expand broadband access in rural areas, recognizing that a 10 percent increase in broadband use in a community can result in an average $7,000 economic difference per household.
iDelta aims to improve education, enhance entrepreneurship and improve healthcare through the use of information technology. Last year, DRA contracted with the MTA to develop a county-wide wireless broadband network as a pilot program in Coahoma County.
In Sept. 2009, MTA and AbsoCom Corporation, a Mississippi-based technology service provider specializing in the design, financing, implementation and management of broadband internet access networks in rural areas, joined forces to lead the project. They contracted with three Mississippi companies – Telepak, Complete Computers, BCI and their sub-contractor, SmartWave Technologies – to begin acquiring the equipment and building-out the network.
“Research indicates that citizens who have access to this type of technology are better prepared to live longer, provide better opportunities for their children, accumulate wealth and participate more effectively in the democratic process,” said Isaac Fowler Jr., CEO of Jackson-based AbsoCom Corporation. “Businesses with access to this type of technology have the capacity to compete more effectively in a new global marketplace, marketing their products and services to a much larger consumer base while utilizing applications that allow them to operate more profitably.”
This is the first project of its kind funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Rural Development Administration through the DRA. The American Recovery and Renewal Act of 2009 provided $7.2 billion in grants and loans through the USDA Rural Utility Services and the U.S. Department of Commerce National Telecommunications and Information Administration. These resources are intended to expand broadband access and adoption to help bridge the technological divide and create jobs building Internet infrastructure.
Indoor Wi-Fi hot spots at the Clarksdale library, Coahoma Community College, Coahoma/Clarksdale Chamber of Commerce, Coahoma Expo Center, Coahoma library, Friars Point City Hall, Northwest Mississippi Medical Center and the Coahoma County Courthouse are also in place. The Wi-Fi hot spots are now available free of charge to anyone with a Wi-Fi enabled device or computer. WiMax is being tested in 35 locations throughout the county, including schools, health clinics and city and county government offices. WiMax (Worldwide Interoperability for Microwave Access) is a 4G telecommunications technology that provides wireless voice, video and data over long distances in a variety of ways, from point-to-point links to full mobile cellular-type access.
The Coahoma County Wireless broadband project is intended to be self-sustaining. The pilot program provides funding for one-year so that the Wi-Fi and WiMax services are free to the public. At the end of one year, Wi-Fi will remain free of charge, and WiMax will be provided on a fee basis to generate enough revenue to cover the network operational expenses.
MTA is working with other technology companies to partner with Clarksdale Public Utilities, Coahoma County and the towns of Friars Point and Coahoma to develop a request for proposal process for potential private partners that will operate the WiMax network.