FULTON – Faster internet service is coming to Itawamba County, but it will take some time getting there.
In late 2015, Jerry McGee, president of Fulton Telephone Company, told The Itawamba County Times his company was hoping to update its broadband infrastructure, providing faster Internet service to its customers within the next five years.
The company’s plan to bring fiber optic broadband service to Fulton and, over time, to most of the county, is still in place, although the timeline has shifted due to changes in the way the Federal Communications Commission distributes grant dollars.
In early 2016, the company requested about $10 million of funds through the FCC with the goal of using that money to replace their current copper cables with faster fiber optics.
Company reps say they’ll get around a third of their requested amount, and rather than a lump sum, the money will be distributed piecemeal over the next decade.
Parsing out the funds in such a way makes a wholesale infrastructure upgrade, expected to cost somewhere in the tens of millions of dollars, financially unfeasible. This puts FTC officials in a tough situation:
“We want to bring fiber to Fulton,” said Chad Benoit, in-house counsel for FTC’s corporate office.
But it has to be profitable, and right now, that’s the problem. Most residential customers don’t need the kinds of speed fiber connections can provide, Benoit said. Without the help of the FCC footing a chunk of the bill, the company lacks both the motivation and the means to upgrade.
“It seems like it’s thrown us off a little bit,” FTC President Jerry McGee said of the changes in the way FCC dollars will be disbursed.
Benoit agreed, adding that there’s hope that it’s only a temporary setback.
“We look at it as a speed bump, nothing more than that,” he said.
FTC has 6,000 customers and covers around 80 percent of Itawamba County. Internet service in the remaining 20 percent of Itawamba County is covered by other providers.
Still, if money weren’t an issue, company reps say they would like to replace the FTC’s existing lines with fiber optic cables, which carry data dozens of times faster than copper wires.
As Fulton continues to grow, the need to transmit more data at faster speeds will grow with it.
Vaunita Martin, executive director of the Itawamba County Development Council, expounded on the need for increased internet speeds.
For a city or county to attract new businesses, they’ve got to have fast, reliable internet service, she said.
“When we talk infrastructure, that’s not just roads and bridges. We’re talking about fiber,” Martin said. “For us, it’s more about businesses and manufacturers being able to run things at faster speeds.”