Kansas City, Austin and Provo are doing it with help from Google.
Chattanooga and Lafayette, La., did it themselves.
Starkville Mayor Parker Wiseman wanted it — he just didn’t know how to get it.
Then came Sept. 24, and without warning, Wiseman saw a path to bring fiber-optic high-speed Internet, phone and television to homes in Mississippi. Now, about six weeks later, Starkville and eight other Mississippi cities are in line to become the first in the state to receive home internet at speeds of up to 1 gigabit per second as part of C Spire’s Fiber to the Home project, which hopes to have the high-speed Internet, phone and digital television operating in some areas in 2014.
“My first thought as a mayor was that there’s no way we’re going to miss this opportunity,” Wiseman said Monday after his city was announced as a finalist. “Then I had another thought — that I felt a great amount of pride as a Mississippian. There hasn’t been an entity — public or private — that is taking on a whole state like C Spire.”
Joining Starkville are finalists Batesville, Clinton, Corinth, Hattiesburg, Horn Lake, McComb, Quitman and Ridgeland. City representatives submitted proposals by Oct. 20, hoping to be one of the final two or three final cities. Instead, C Spire expanded the list. The next step is for cities to gain enough subscription commitments in neighborhood groups — or “Fiberhoods” — to get C Spire’s blessings.
But Wiseman was well aware the impact the fiber optic speeds could have on a residential community. This year, he had twice been to Chattanooga, which built a fiber optic utility network, they opened it up to residential internet and television.
“Chattanooga was in driving distance, and as a mayor, I’d be doing a disservice to my city if I saw the brink of a technological revolution coming and I didn’t seek a way to get us there,” said Wiseman.
“We were astounded by what we learned, and how it’s changed that community,” said Wiseman. “When you go from 10 megabytes per second service to one gigabit per second, it’s not like you’re just speeding it up — it’s like a different service.
“I think I’d be short-selling it by simply describing it as an improvement in quality of life. In almost every city that’s done this, something special has happened. All of a sudden, doors that you didn’t know existed get unlocked.
But he had no idea how to get there quickly. He admits he probably would have considered the Chattanooga model, but that might have taken years. “The reason Chattanooga took it on when they did was because nobody in the private market was willing to take it on.”
Then came C Spire’s announcement.
“That’s when we said: ‘This is it.’ We’ve got to find a way to be part of this.”
So why let an outside company build his network instead of sticking with the Chattanooga plan?
“There are intense capital costs associated with building an infrastructure up front, and that’s the risk that C Spire is taking on with this program,” Wiseman said. “I have no doubt they’re going to be successful, but it needs to be noted, they are taking a bold business risk.”
With risks come negotiations, and C Spire has asked cities to make concessions to expedite the process. One of those concessions may be a 25-year franchising agreement, the maximum length allowed by state law.
“It’s impossible to know where technology will be in 25 years, but franchise agreements with cable companies and telecommunication companies tend to endure changes in technologies,” said Wiseman. “Whatever the changes in technology are, it’s a fair bet C Spire will still be there and have a relationship with the city.”
The project also leaves much of the campaigning up to the cities, with the reward being the prize.
“C Spire produced the most innovative marketing program I’ve ever seen, and my hat’s off to them for that,” said Quitman mayor Eddie Fulton. “I’ve been in marketing 30 years, and I’ve never seen anything like it. It was impressive.”
Fulton was afraid his chances would be hurt because his town has only about 2,300 residents.
“I wondered if C Spire would look at what we are — not the size of our town, but the size of the hearts of the people there and their interest in C Spire’s technology.”
Meanwhile, Hattiesburg mayor Johnny DuPree developed a marketing strategy of his own.
“We changed it from Fiber to the Home, to Fiber to Every Home,” he said, because he thinks this is something that will change everyone’s life.
“I want to thank C Spire for its forward thinking, because it’s going to change how we’re looked at in Mississippi — because we’re on the cutting edge of being the best state in the nation.”
Tommy Irwin, mayor of Corinth said: “This is just another piece in the growth puzzle of Corinth. This is a major piece.”
And Ridgeland Mayor Gene McGee said his town has already started a campaign to encourage residents to sign-up. “Our residents are already engaged and excited about it.”
Perhaps Eddie Fulton, mayor of the town of Quitman and its 2,300 residents, said it best.
“Most beautiful aspect of this entire project is that a Mississippi company is taking care of Mississippi cities. That means a lot to all of us.”