February 18, 2014 9:49:03 AM
Starkville's South Montgomery neighborhood became one of three Mississippi communities to qualify for C Spire's high-speed, residential Internet program Monday.
As of 5 p.m. Monday, 49 percent of South Montgomery residents had pre-registered for Fiber to the Home, a service that will provide 1 gigabit Internet speeds. Pre-registration efforts across the city's other nine "fiberhoods" lagged, with the Timber Cove/College Station/Polos area reporting 13 percent of the required 35 percent needed to begin C Spire engineering and construction efforts.
The other C Spire "fiberhoods" that qualified for fiber optic installation Monday were one neighborhood within Horn Lake and the entire town of Quitman.
"This is just the start," Starkville Mayor Parker Wiseman said. "We have nine other 'fiberhoods' in our city and by the time we are finished, we plan to have all of them over the percentage threshold and successfully in the program. We'll take a moment to celebrate getting over our first hurdle, but we'll get right back to work to ensure that this service gets extended everywhere in our community."
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 uses pre-registration - a $10 fee - percentages in designated neighborhoods to measure interest in the service.
Company officials used geography and population density to divide towns into "fiberhoods." For example, Quitman had a population of 2,323 recorded during the 2010 census, while Starkville had a population of 24,360 during the 2012 estimate.
To push signups, a team of local volunteers, led by Starkville entrepreneur Adrian Marcus, went door to door in the South Montgomery neighborhood in January. Marcus said the group talked to about 1,481 households across Starkville and helped register more than 150 homes.
"Today is a great day for the city of Starkville," he said. "Our grassroots effort through SociallyIN worked hard to assist the city in reaching this historic milestone, and we look forward to continuing our grassroots effort throughout the city."
Starkville officials have lauded the service since its announcement, saying the high-speed, residential Internet connection will transform the city and provide a significant boon to economic and community development.
"Fiber to the Home is a transformative technology, serving as a platform for innovation and new Internet experiences that have yet to be imagined," said C Spire CEO Hu Meena in a release Monday. "This initiative is a great example of what can be accomplished when cities, communities and business leaders work together to move Mississippi forward."
"It's really incredible to know that we get to share this moment and that this will be the first multi-city deployment of gigabit service in the U.S.," Wiseman added in the release. "It's not every day that you get to be part of something that is truly groundbreaking and game-changing."
C Spire originally announced last fall it would pick a single 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 potential roll-out cities 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.
Starkville aldermen approved a 45-year franchise agreement in December with Telepak Networks for fiber installation. 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 by aldermen consists of a 25-year term and two automatic, 10-year rollovers.
In that meeting, Ward 6 Alderman Roy A. Perkins launched an impassioned, 15-minute plea against the contract, saying it was a "bad deal" for Starkville and took the nature of the rushed vote to task.
Aldermen had two choices in that meeting: accept the agreement or miss out on the initiative since C Spire was set to begin the next phase of the competition the day after the board meeting.
Carl Smith covers Starkville and Oktibbeha County for The Dispatch. Follow him on Twitter @StarkDispatch
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