Foundation brings free high-speed access to town’s homes, businesses

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Published: April 2,2007

You can’t beat free. That’s the cost of wireless high-speed Internet service coming to Amory.

As the Monroe County city ramps up its AmoryNet service, every home and business in town will be eligible for absolutely free high-speed Internet service. The first locations are expected to be live in mid-April. The project should be substantially complete by 2009.

“This is the first of its kind in Mississippi and the United States,” said Danny Spreitler, executive director of the Gilmore Foundation. That 91-year-old organization was founded by a doctor who also built the town’s first hospital.
Spreitler explained that Gilmore Memorial Hospital was sold to a healthcare company in 2005, resulting in a 40-fold increase in the foundation’s investment portfolio.

Backbone critical

“This project is a foundation gift to the community,” Spreitler remarked.

And what a gift it is. While Amory has not been successful in its lobbying efforts for a four-lane highway running to it, the city will be made over into a major stop on the information highway.

“We can become as competitive as most other towns,” said Stephen Surles, president and CEO of the Monroe Chamber of Commerce. Surles said that, while Internet access to every home that wants it is very important, “the high-speed backbone is more important.”

That data-transfer conduit will allow companies and institutions like Gilmore Memorial Hospital to transmit and receive huge amounts of data — digital x-ray and CT scan images, for example — at lightning speed. In turn, agree Spreitler and Surles, companies outside the city that are seeking locations where they can operate their technology-dependent facilities might be swayed to consider Amory as a new home.

“The vision is to provide a data highway second to none,” said Mayor Howard Boozer.

The closest thing to AmoryNet just might be in DeSoto County where Southaven’s MagnoliaNet is providing subscription wireless Internet service to parts of that city. Southaven’s information technology manager, Jason Grant, said the service costs $30 per month, with an additional $100 to install an antenna if the resident is not within easy range of city towers.

Spreitler said the entire Amory project will cost the foundation $500,000 during the next couple of years. The data center is housed in the new 7,200-square-foot, $3 million Gilmore Foundation Conference Center built on the grounds of the Amory Regional Museum, which is the original Gilmore Sanitarium (hospital).

That building, Spreitler explained, is equipped to virtually never go down, with redundant power supplied by massive generators and even a redundant water supply.

Additional tech tools

Not only will the Gilmore Foundation be covering all 13.1 square miles of Amory with wireless Internet signal, but it will put a laptop computer into the hands of the 141 Amory High School seniors at the beginning of the coming school year. Spreitling said that program will eventually be altered to include all incoming sophomores.

Also slated for wiring are Amory’s seven daycare centers. Each will receive two desktop computers designed to be used by the children who attend them. The brightly colored units and color-coded keyboards will introduce the very young to computing.

The first of several planned computer instruction centers is opening inside the Gilmore Conference Center. Spreitler said Amory residents may attend free computer classes, given on the classroom’s 37 computers, to learn how to operate one.

“We’re working to open another one at the West Amory Community Center by mid-June,” said Spreitler.

The foundation tapped into the MEGAPOP (Mississippi Economic Growth Alliance and Point of Presence) loop at its Columbus terminal. In a partnership with AT&T, a fiber-optic, ultra high-capacity O-3 line was run to Amory.

The next phase, a data line from Columbus, through Amory and Tupelo to Corinth, is funded by a Federal Communications Commission grant.

“This is not a competition for us,” Greg Hayman, president of Leland- and Jackson-based TecInfo, said of a municipality giving away what his firm sells. The Internet service provider (ISP) offers high-speed Internet service in various Mississippi locales.

Hayman explained that the real cost of maintaining an ISP company comes in providing ongoing technical support. His firm provides that service “24 hours a day, 365 days a year.”
Spreitler said Amory’s lone computer-oriented business — MidSouth Computers — came on board the AmoryNet effort when it was tapped to provide the technology support of the system.

The southeastern United States, claims Spreitler, boasts private foundations with more than $11 billion in assets.

Spreitler added, “So many of these foundations could do the same thing in the Mississippi Delta, Appalachia or any town.
“Accessing broadband is a necessity, now.”

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