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Vidalia broadband permit allotted for city

VIDALIA — The City of Vidalia’s broadband initiative has gotten a needed permit to bring ultra-high speed Internet to the area.

The broadband initiative has been under way for several years with the goal of offering 1-gigabyte per second speed Internet service, and last week  the city broke ground on a technology center that will house the key infrastructure.

But one of the issues that has hindered the advent of the service was the installation of fiber-optic cable to transmit information. The city would have to run the cable across the U.S. 84 Mississippi River bridge, an arrangement the Mississippi Department of Transportation — which oversees the bridge’s maintenance — does not usually allow.

MDOT normally disallows running utilities on structures it controls.

But Concordia Economic Development Director Heather Malone said the city received a key permit Friday that will allow the line to cross the river.

“They can go ahead and install the fiber across the bridge, because the head-in (structure for the installation) is already located at the site,” Malone said. “They are planning on construction as soon as possible.”

The infrastructure will be located at the Vidalia Technology Center, a $1.2 million facility that will be located at the former Vidalia City Hall’s North Spruce Street location. In addition to housing the Internet infrastructure, the center will serve as a small business development facility.

A U.S. Department of Commerce Economic Development Administration grant is funding the project.

Malone said the high-speed Internet access will help with business recruiting.

“It definitely opens us up, first because a lot of people just assumed we already had the capacity and it is nice to say, ‘Yes, we already have the capacity,’ and second because it opens us up to other markets that we can target for recruitment,” Malone said.

The State of Louisiana currently has a focus on developing a digital economy, she said.

“We could have never thought of participating in those programs before and this will give us the tool where we can begin to look at that,” Malone said.

“With the creative minds we have with these newer generations, they will be able to see their vision out in their hometown. They will be able to go to a technology center and have basic resources there if they have — for example — a new app they want to test out instead of having to go to Austin or somewhere like that.”

Vidalia Mayor Hyram Copeland could not be reached for comment Wednesday.