County still awaits fiber-optic network

Published 12:00 am Thursday, August 12, 2010

NATCHEZ — Local technology buffs feeling down on their wireless Internet connection might be wondering why Natchez’s fiber-optic network has yet to arrive.

Last year, the Adams County Board of Supervisors passed a motion to support the combined efforts of a Texas-based fiber-optic company and millions in federal stimulus dollars that would result in high-speed Internet access for rural Adams County residents.

BSI, Cable, based in Balch Springs, Texas, was originally scheduled to install the network by this month. However, the company is still waiting on the federal funding.

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BSI Cable CEO Gerry Locke said fiber-optic cable networks would give Natchez residents a faster Internet connection. It would also provide more efficient connectivity to government, law enforcement, medical and educational facilities.

“Economic development, job creation and improvement of quality of life are the three main benefits of fiber-optic networks,” Locke said.

Services such as telemedicine, next generation 911, telecommuting and distance learning would be made available with the network.

Locke said 5 to 10 percent of big American cities have fiber-optic networking, but it is rare in rural areas due to installation costs.

He said a global movement to install fiber-optic networks has transpired in recent years.

Locke said his company is in its second round of applications with the United States Department of Agriculture to receive approximately $20 million from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act to bring broadband to rural areas.

Additionally, BSI would provide a 20-percent match to the government’s funding with its own cash.

The company’s first application was denied last year. Locke said he will know whether BSI will receive the ARRA money by Sept. 30.

Locke said he thinks the company has a 50-50 chance of receiving stimulus money. If the second and final chance to apply for ARRA money fails, BSI will pursue funding from other government programs, Locke said.

“We expect there will be future programs for fiber optics, and we will continue to submit until we eventually get awarded (funding),” Locke said.

Locke said BSI will not abandon the project plans to install networks in Adams, Amite, Claiborne, Jefferson and Wilkinson counties as part of the company’s rural deployment plan.

“It’s probably our No. 1 priority. We have thousands of hours invested in it,” Locke said.

Locke said BSI has spent more than $400,000 on preparing applications and preliminary engineering for the rural deployment plan. Vendors are already lined up and BSI can start the process immediately when funding arrives.

District 5 Supervisor S. E. “Spanky” Felter and Board of Supervisors President Darryl Grennell said they had not heard an update on the status of BSI’s project to install a fiber-optic network in Natchez, but they support the project.

“I think it’s going to be good for the county, and it’s free,” Felter said.

Locke said community support from Natchez would bolster BSI’s chance of receiving a grant for fiber-optic cable networks.

“Contact your congressmen and senators and let them know you want it,” Locke said.