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Competition beginning to heat up as need grows for better broadband

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Several Mississippi cities are in the process of getting gigabit Internet service, provided by ultra-high speed fiber optic lines. This kind of service is currently available in only a few, mostly metropolitan areas nationwide. In addition to gigabit Internet, customers can also get landline telephone service and an extensive package of high definition TV channels — introducing competition into an arena where there has heretofore been little or none.

Five or so years ago, when Internet search engine powerhouse Google announced a nationwide competition for a pioneer project to install ultra-high speed gigabit broadband service, more than 1,100 cities and communities submitted applications.

Kansas City was selected and the rest of the country went back to making do with service that ranged from reasonably good in metropolitan areas and small cities, to so-so/poor in rural areas. Various federal agencies, including the USDA, have launched broadband initiatives of one kind or another, with mostly limited success.

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But after the flurry of national envy over the Google project, and frustration at the inaction of government and the status quo mindset of telephone and cable companies that provide the bulk of the country’s Internet service, with little or no competition, an interesting thing happened.

Others saw opportunity in the need for state of the art broadband and the services it can provide, and they didn’t wait for government or megalithic telecoms to do it someday, maybe.

Chattanooga, Tenn., and its publicly-owned electric utility installed a gigabit system, at an estimated cost in excess of $300 million. But leaders there believe it will pay dividends, attracting tech-oriented businesses, broadening access to medical services, education, the arts, and other benefits the technology makes possible.

Other cities have followed Chattanooga’s lead, and Google has announced expansion of its service to other locations.

In Mississippi, C Spire — a homegrown company that had its beginnings as a small cell phone provider, Cellular South, and has become the nation’s largest privately held wireless company, with more than 1,200 employees — is now in the process of installing gigabit fiber service in nine cities it serves.

One of those cities is where I live, and their contractor has been digging its way through our neighborhood for the past couple of weeks, laying conduits for the fiber cables. C Spire says it hopes to have the service up and running before year’s end. Not only will it be offering gigabit Internet plus landline phone service, it will be going head-to-head with the local cable company in providing an extensive package of high definition TV channels, introducing competition into an arena where there has heretofore been little.

This kind of undertaking — one can only imagine how many millions it’s costing — is a feather in the cap for the company, for Mississippi, and for the cities that will be getting this cutting edge technology. It also demonstrates what can be accomplished by forward-thinking companies and municipalities that want to be leaders in fulfilling the promises inherent in our expanding technological age.

Best of all, we can expect that as other companies begin heading for new frontiers of the digital revolution, offering better and expanded services, the handwriting will be on the wall for the old line telecoms and cable companies, and that they will have to compete or die.

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