August 16, 2019 10:35:33 AM
C Spire is slated to bring gigabit internet to homeowners and businesses throughout Lowndes County.
Lowndes County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved its franchise agreement with C Spire during its regular meeting Thursday morning in an effort to increase high-speed internet access to rural areas.
The 25-year agreement with Lowndes County allows C Spire to lay, construct, maintain, replace, repair and operate fiber optic cables along streets, avenues, highways, roads and bridges throughout the unincorporated areas of the county. C Spire will be responsible for maintaining and restoring the areas where infrastructure is built.
With C Spire's fiber optic cables, customers are offered three primary services: gigabit internet, a C Spire live streaming television service and home telephone service through the internet.
In return, the county will receive 5 percent of customer revenue from C Spire's television service. County Administrator Ralph Billingsley said the county currently has a similar contract with Sparklight for its cable services. He added with the upgrade to its services, he hopes to see more rural areas having high-speed internet connections.
"I would think over time that they will develop some of these (rural) areas and get the residents access to high-speed internet," Billingsley said. "I think that's a good thing for Lowndes County residents. It will start out in the densely populated neighborhoods and things and over time might move to the people that just live close to those populated areas."
District 5 Supervisor Leroy Brooks recalled a recent time when a concerned citizen approached him because she did not have reliable internet and it was affecting her career. He said he hopes C Spire can reach those customers in the county struggling with reliable internet access.
"I think to be able to expand internet systems is a major plus," Brooks said. "It's going to help facilitate economic development and growth."
Board of Supervisors President Harry Sanders agreed there's a gap between some county residents and affordable internet options.
"It can't do anything but improve things," Sanders said. "I think it's a good deal. I think this is going to be a way to get rural access to internet."
What's a gigabit?
Dave Miller, spokesperson for C Spire, said the gigabit per-second speeds will lessen buffering for internet usage and allow multiple devices to use the internet at one time without the typical hang-ups. Gigabit internet is up to 10 times faster than the national average for internet speed.
Currently, AT&T and Sparklight both offer internet services throughout the county, but neither provides fiber optic gigabit services. Representatives from Sparklight and AT&T did not comment before press time today.
According to company websites, AT&T offers up to 18 megabits per-second. Sparklight offers speeds up to 300 megabits per-second.
A gigabit represents 1,000 megabits.
C Spire currently offers internet in Lowndes County through customers' wireless cell phone service.
Miller said that a time-frame is not set for bringing gigabit service to Lowndes County, but the process begins with the county's franchise agreement. C Spire representatives will start canvassing and researching "targeted" areas to decide where infrastructure will begin.
"We basically go into areas and we do the research and we figure out if there's interest there and we make the ultimate decision if we decide to build directly," Miller said. "We are determining areas we believe, based on research, statistics and information, there's a need for broadband. We talk to homeowners association, talk to the chambers (of commerce), we talk to the elected officials, we talk to local organizations (and) we put all the information into the decision making and that's how we make a determination."
Miller added those interested in receiving higher speed internet can register their address online at www.cspire.com/fiber.
"Even though a response will come back saying we are not building in that area, we take that data and that residence becomes a pin on the map," Miller said. "If we get enough pins within a geographical area, that triggers our potential interest in building there."
The Starkville blueprint
The Golden Triangle is no stranger to fiber optics and gigabit internet, with Starkville being one of the first cities in Mississippi to receive gigabit speed internet.
C Spire's process has changed slightly since Starkville's journey began in 2013. Originally, neighborhoods signed up for high-speed internet interest and supplied a refundable $10 fee to C Spire. Once nearly 50 percent of houses in a designated "fiberhood" registered, the company would start building infrastructure and providing services. In Lowndes County that fee will not be assessed and C Spire representatives will not use such a stringent fiberhood model.
Miller said local internet providers in Starkville enhanced and increased their services after C Spire entered the market, in an effort to compete. Specifically, MaxxSouth bought Metrocast and introduced gigabit speed internet briefly after C Spire began laying its infrastructure.
"All the communities we've gone into, we really feel like we've improved the quality of service, not just by what we provide but providing competition," Miller said. "The ultimate beneficiary is consumers. They get more choice. They often get better services and more value."
Starkville was successful, he added, with infrastructure set up in nearly all neighborhoods that wanted the fiber optic service. The exception was residential areas highly populated by college students who were moving in and out.
"Every other area where there was a large residential population that wasn't transient in the city we built out," Miller said. "If you were interested in those services, we provided them in those areas."
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