January 25, 2014 10:58:20 PM
Starkville's 10 potential "fiberhoods" are all well below the sign-up requirement to become Mississippi's first recipient of C Spire's Fiber to the Home program, but a local group of volunteers are going door to door in an effort to earn the distinction before eight other towns qualify.
Adrian Marcus, a Starkville entrepreneur, is leading a team of about 10 volunteers as they target four Starkville neighborhoods for high-speed Internet access. His goal is to register 35-45 percent of South Montgomery, Timber Cove/College Station/Polos, Cotton District/Downtown/Historic Central Starkville and Oktibbeha Gardens/Old West Point Road residents for the program by Feb. 5.
In November, C Spire officials announced that Batesville, Clinton, Corinth, Hattiesburg, Horn Lake, McComb, Quitman, Ridgeland and Starkville advanced to a second round of the Fiber to the Home competition in which the company will use pre-registration percentages in designated neighborhoods to measure interest in the service. Once those goals are reached, C Spire plans to begin fiber installation in those areas.
Fiber to the Home will provide residential access to 1 gigabyte-per-second Internet speeds, a connection that local officials say will transform the city and provide a significant boon to economic and community development initiatives.
According to C Spire's website, South Montgomery (16 percent of 45 percent required) leads the way locally in terms of early interest, followed by Timber Cove/College Station/Polos (7 percent of 35 percent required) and Oktibbeha Gardens/Old West Point Road (5 percent of 45 percent required).
Other cities within the competition are also lagging behind with sign up percentages, including Batesville, Corinth, Hattiesburg and McComb. Competitive neighborhoods include: Clinton's Hunter's Ridge/Indian Trails area (12 percent of 45 percent), Horn Lake's Allen neighborhood (13 percent of 45 percent), Quitman (18 percent of 45 percent) and Ridgeland's Bridgewater community (10 percent of 45 percent).
C Spire divided towns into "fiberhoods" based upon geography and population density, Starkville Mayor Parker Wiseman previously told the Dispatch. For example, the entire town of Quitman was designated as a C Spire "fiberhood."
Local volunteers began their door-to-door campaign last week. Marcus said they're willing to talk to all residents about the importance of the Fiber to the Home challenge, provide links and literature to further explain the program's benefits and help with sign-up.
"We want to be the first town to get this access because we understand how this will impact our community," Marcus said. "Volunteers can be recognized by their T-shirts and tablets. People can sign up right at the door with our help, or we'll leave handouts at the door so they can continue to read about the program.
"Right now, a lot of people are showing interest, but some don't know much about it," he added. "We sometimes have to go back and talk to them some more or help them sign up."
Residents can pre-register for the program at http://www.CSpire.com/Starkville. A $10 deposit is required. Marcus said residents willing to volunteer in the pre-registration campaign can email him at AdrianMarcus35@gmail.com for more information on how to help. His group also maintains a Twitter account, @Fiber4Stk, and updates can be found by searching "#FiberforSTK."
"I am excited about the grassroots effort that is taking shape to bring some of the fastest Internet download speeds in the world to Starkville," Wiseman said.
C Spire originally announced last fall it would pick a Fiber to the Home launch city based upon applicants' progressive, business-minded leadership; cost-saving agreements with local governments; and measured demand shown in the pre-registration process. The number of communities increased during the initiative's first phase because of the strength, quality and comprehensive nature of applicants' submissions, the company announced in November.
Finalists were picked by a review panel that weighed a number of factors, including the municipalities' proximity to C Spire's fiber optic infrastructure, community mobilization capacities and cost-saving, construction-facilitating incentives.
In December, Starkville aldermen approved a 45-year franchise agreement with Telepak Networks for fiber installation by a 4-3 vote. The agreement yields access for right-of-way construction while securing monies for the city based upon a percentage of future television and phone service revenues. State law caps franchise agreements at 25 years; however, the franchise agreement agreed upon consists of a 25-year term and two automatic, 10-year rollovers.
Ward 6 Alderman Roy A. Perkins launched an impassioned, 15-minute plea against the contract in that meeting, saying it was a "bad deal" for Starkville and took the nature of the rushed vote to task.
Aldermen had two choices then: Accept the agreement or miss out of the initiative since C Spire was set to begin the next phase of the Fiber to the Home competition the day after the board meeting.
The 1-gigabyte service is expected to be up and running by mid-year.
Carl Smith covers Starkville and Oktibbeha County for The Dispatch. Follow him on Twitter @StarkDispatch
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