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Pulaski, Tennessee: "A Community Investing In Itself" With Better Connectivity

Pulaski, located in the area Tennesseans describe as the southern middle region of the state, has a fiber network other communities covet. When we contacted Wes Kelley, one of the people instrumental in establishing the network, he told us that the community always wanted to be more than "just Mayberry." Rather than settle for the sleepy, quaint, character of the fictional TV town, local leaders in Pulaski chose to invest in fiber infrastructure for businesses and residents.

A Legacy That Lives On

The county seat of Giles County, Pulaski has a long history of municipal utility service. The electric system was founded in 1891, and is the oldest in the state. The city also provides municipal water, sewer, and natural gas service. The electric utility, Pulaski Electric System (PES), serves most of Giles County, which amounts to approximately 15,000 customers. PES receives power from the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) and then distributes it throughout the county.

Pulaski is now known for its Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network, PES Energize, but the city's first adventure in providing municipal Internet access began in 1993. The city developed dial-up service and within five years, 1,500 homes were using the service. The city abandoned the dial-up service to offer Wi-Fi but then sold that system to a private company.

Preparing PES

Leaders in Pulaski had their sights on connectivity beyond the limits of Wi-Fi. In 2002, Mayor Dan Speer and Dan Holcomb, the New CEO of PES, began exploring a publicly owned fiber network. Holcomb had previously lead a Michigan utility that offered cable TV and so used his experience to help establish the PES Energize network. AT&T (BellSouth at the time) provided DSL service and Charter offered cable Internet access but neither company performed to the satisfaction of the community. In fact, Pulaski had always suffered through poor quality service from its incumbents.

When Holcomb arrived, the community engaged a consultant for a feasibility study to examine in detail the idea of a publicly owned fiber network; Holcomb, Speer, and the rest of the city's leadership were not confident about the results. Before the community moved forward, Holcomb felt it was important they carry out a customer survey and a second feasibility study. In the spring of 2003, the organization undertook a survey and used the results to ready the utility to step into its approaching role as a municipal network utility.

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Ready For The Next Step

Two years later, city and utility leadership felt that they were ready and completed a second feasibility study. This time, the results suggested a better outcome if Pulaski decided to invest in a publicly owned fiber network. In the spring of 2005, Pulaski developed a business plan that was approved in March by Tennessee's State Comptroller, as required by state law. In May, the city council voted to issue $8.5 million in General Obligation (GO) bonds to finance FTTH deployment and a data center.

Kelley had worked on a similar project in Hillsdale, Michigan, and even though Holcomb had asked him to work on the Pulaski project, Kelley was reluctant. Hillsdale had not pursued a network and Kelley did not want another disappointment. Once Pulaski's utility board and city council backed the plan, he knew the project had the support to move forward. Kelley accepted a position as Chief Marketing Officer for the utility. (Kelley talks more about his experience in Pulaski, Hillsdale, and his current role in Columbia, Tennessee, in episode 189 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. Check it out to learn more.)

GO bonds are not one of the three most used types of financing for municipal networks but Kelley explained why they worked well for Pulaski. When a community chooses to fund any project with GO bonds, investors have an added measure of safety because the project and the loan are backed by the full faith and credit of the community. In other words, the issuing jurisdiction can use its taxing authority to pay back the debt, if necessary. As a result, the municipality, county, or other government entity issuing the bonds obtain very low interest rates. GO bonds require that the project developed be owned by the community and funds are typically used for projects that will be used by the entire community.

People Grow The Asset

Construction started in 2006, with fiber following the path of the existing power lines - when the lines were aerial, the fiber was installed on poles and when lines went underground, the new network followed suit. PES took the same approach with street lines and drops to homes. Line construction was completed in September 2006; the utility finished its Network Operations Center in November, and began testing right away. 

PES Energize began offering residential triple-play of cable TV, phone, and high-speed Internet services in January 2007 but its formal launch was not until the spring of 2007. When the network launched, it offered services at download speeds of 5 Megabits per second (Mbps), 10 Mbps, and 20 Mbps. Since then, speeds have increased. High-speed Internet access, video, and telephone are available in a variety of bundles or subscribers can purchase stand-alone Internet access for $35.95 (25 Mbps download / 5 Mbps upload), $75.95 (50 Mbps download / 7 Mbps upload), or $100.00 (100 Mbps download / 10 Mbps upload) per month.

By the time Wes Kelley left for his new position as Executive Director of Columbia Power and Water in 2012, PES Energize had achieved a 45 percent take rate. According to Mike Hollis, in charge of sales for PES Energize, the utility expands the network incrementally every year. By the end of January 2016, the network passed 5,609 homes and businesses. The utility's take rate is just under 49 percent in total with 2,729 of those properties passed subscribing to PES Energize.

According to Hollis, customers in rural areas are speeding up the expansions by footing the bill themselves. In PES' electric service area beyond the current network footprint, residents and business owners have approached the utility to ask for an estimate on the cost of expansion to their neighborhood. PES provides a figure for materials and pole attachment costs. Increasingly, these small pockets of rural neighborhoods, with nothing but dial-up or satellite, will chip in to pay for the construction. The neighborhood group cuts a check and the utility expands the network to that area.

Hollis noted that a local realtor is organizing the most recent example of a would-be subscriber funded expansion. He can't sell houses in his neighborhood where there is no high quality Internet access; homebuyers don't want houses with dial-up or satellite. He and his neighbors see the move as a necessary investment so he is leading the effort to obtain contributions from people in the neighborhood to pay for the fiber expansion.

Businesses In Mind

When PES launched, it also offered dark fiber leasing for organizations that wished to manage their own data needs. Most businesses in Pulaski purchase lit services and/or use the utility's data center. The facility housed a colocation facility, hosting services, and offsite data storage and was designed to withstand an F5 tornado.

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In 2011, Speers, who had transitioned from Mayor to Executive Director of the Pualski-Giles County Economic Development Council, discussed how the network had improved functionality for local businesses in an interview with Craig Settles. Whether a local printer sending artwork to Los Angeles or a graphic artist sending catalogue material to Canada, Pulaski businesses heaved a sigh of relief when they tapped into PES Energize. Businesses today overwhelmingly choose PES Energize - 82 percent of those passed subscribe.

From the interview:

"The golden rule of economic development is, take care of what you got. Take care of your existing industry first. There’s no question they will use it. If you’re lucky enough to get an industry to come in because they need the broadband, then that’s gravy.

During this current economic downturn, we’ve focused a lot of attention on our existing retail base and entrepreneur development. We’re teaching businesses how to maximize their use of the network so they can broaden their customer base nationally through the Internet. Our philosophy is to tie in the use of technology to help the businesses we have."

Looking At The Long Term

Pulaski has not experienced significant population growth since investing in PES Energize, but it has managed to avoid decline, a problem gripping similarly sized communities in the region. Tullahoma is a little over an hour away, Columbia is less than 45 minutes north; both communities offer potential employers municipal fiber connectivity. Pulaski made the investment first and can still compete for economic development opportunities in a peaceful setting.

When new businesses look for a location to open a facility where high-speed connectivity is a must, and search for a "Mayberry" to attract a quality workforce, Pulaski is on the short list because of its municipal fiber network.

Wes Kelley recognizes the long-term value of Pulaski's decision to create Internet network infrastructure. When we spoke with him for this article he reinforced what local officials and their constituents all over tell us - that the people of Pulaski knew the best course for themselves:

"It's a community investing in itself. Pulaski spent $8.5 million. They could have spent $8.5 million building a new rec center and a new pool but they didn't. They decided to put it in the air and in the ground to provide telecommunications infrastructure for the next 40 years. I think that's a powerful decision but it is a local decision…local control is critically important."

Gigabit Awards Contest From Siklu: RFI Deadline March 14th

Siklu, known for its wireless technology innovation, is now in the process of granting a number of "Gigabit Awards." Their goal is to offer municipalities an opportunity to use their high-speed wireless technology.

Who Can Compete?

Communities who can offer quick deployment and meet the company's qualifying criteria will win the equipment package. A municipality will need the following to be considered for a "Gigabit Award":

1. An existing fiber network with accessible PoPs, and the ability to provide internet services over this network 

2. The capability to install (internally or with a partnering ISP) the Gigabit links within a tight deployment schedule

3. Free services to underserved locations will be considered as an advantage: affordable housing, community sites, school facilities 

The Siklu equipment package includes:

1. 10 gigabit links to connect buildings (MDUs, anchor institutions etc.) 

2. Wireless planning, training and support services 

Speed Is Of The Essence

The RFI submission deadline of March 14th is fast approaching and "Gigabit Award" announcements will begin on March 21st. Rollout plan submissions, approvals, and kick offs will all happen in April with completion goal scheduled for May 31st, 2016.

For more details, download the Gigabit Award Checklist, which contains information on RFIs, or contact Siklu's Boris Maysel at boris.m(at)siklu.com.

Springfield, Massachusetts Introducing Free Downtown Wifi Plus New Dark Fiber Capacity

Starting this spring, the City of Springfield, Massachusetts will offer free municipal Wi-Fi and new dark fiber capacity to a 7-block area of the city’s downtown known as the “Springfield Innovation District.”

As Masslive.com reports, the new dark fiber will create a connection between the city’s Springfield Innovation Center and an existing network of dark fiber capacity in this part of downtown. The publicly owned fiber currently provides gigabit connectivity to municipal buildings but the city will lease out excess capacity. The new Wi-Fi and dark fiber services are part of a broader plan aimed at boosting economic development and innovation in Springfield, the state’s third largest city at 150,000 and the fourth largest city in all of New England. 

The project is phase one of a broader plan to soon expand the network even further in order to reach an additional downtown area and all of the city’s public parks. Springfield’s Chief Information Officer Kevin Kennedy estimates the project’s phase 1 total cost between $50,000 and $100,000. While users interested in connecting to the dark fiber will contract with a private provider for Internet service, the city will be the service provider for the free downtown Wi-Fi.

Preparing for New Tourism, Increased Economic Development, Better Livability

Over the next two years, the city will welcome a new Union Station transportation center and an MGM Casino in the city’s downtown area. With the increased tourism, Kennedy told WAMC Radio that it would be “embarrassing” for Springfield not to have free downtown Wi-Fi.

Delcie Bean, the founder of a Springfield IT company and the creator a downtown-based tech training organization called Tech Foundry, believes the new network capacity is essential to attracting people to work, live, and play in downtown Springfield:

"Connectivity like this is like what electricity was to an earlier age," he said. " It opens up the possibilities for other things to happen because we will have this fundamental base." While pointing at a downtown park near his offices, Bean added, "If we are ever going to activate that park as a public work space, we are going to need to have Wi-Fi. Even food trucks use Wi-Fi these days to process credit cards. There is just so much you can't do without it."

Local coverage:

Monday, Feb. 29th: New Report, Webinar from Next Century Cities & WifiForward

Next Century Cities and WifiFoward will present the results of new research on wireless technologies. The report (to be released on February 29, 2016) provides a detailed analysis of LTE-U and Wi-Fi in the context of local governments.

Major topics covered in the new report include the importance of Wi-Fi for local government operations, the potential effects of LTE-U interference, and the possibility of LTE-U and Wi-Fi coexistence. Next Century Cities, WifiForward, and CTC Technology & Energy will present the results of the research in an upcoming webinar.

The presentation is this coming Monday, February 29th at 1PM ET over Google Hangout and features:

  • CTC Technology & Energy’s Joanne Hovis and Andrew Afflerbach
  • Next Century Cities’ Todd O’Boyle 
  • WifiForward’s Bill Maguire 

The report will be released on February 29, 2016.

Register for the webinar here.

Durango's Dark Fiber Fosters Wi-Fi Freebie

Last fall, Durango joined a number of other Colorado communities that voted to reclaim local telecommunications authority. This January, the city began using its fiber resources to partner with a private provider and offer free Wi-Fi along the downtown corridor.

The move is one step in the city's plan to optimize use of its fiber resources. At the moment, Wi-Fi appears to be the center point of that plan, with special attention focused on increasing competition so residents and businesses will benefit with lower prices and more choice. From a January article in the Durango Herald:

Some rural residents with slow Internet also should have more service options by the end of the year, courtesy of CenturyLink, SkyWerx, AlignTec and BrainStorm.

“A lot of people are working on it. ... In certain geographies we’re going to see overlapping solutions,” said Roger Zalneraitis, director of the La Plata County Economic Development Alliance.

Durango has leased dark fiber for over 20 years and operates its own I-Net for municipal and La Plate County facilities. The Southwest Colorado Council of Governments (SWCCOG) has been developing an open access regional fiber network since 2010, funded through local communities and the Colorado Department of Local Affairs. The SWCCOG is now working with the Colorado Department of Transportation and the La Plata County Economic Development Alliance to determine if and where there are gaps in the fiber network.

Due to the expense of fiber optic lines, the difficult topography, and the remote locations of some La Plata county residents, community leaders are looking at microwave wireless as a way to deliver Internet access to a number of people.

Local video on the Wi-Fi install:

Newark, Delaware, City Council Votes For Feasibility Study

Newark, Delaware, prides itself on its small-city status: a bike-friendly place with a great main street and home to 30,000 residents. Some, however, consider poor Internet access Newark's biggest small-city problem.

In December, the City Council decided to move forward with a feasibility study for a municipal broadband network. In a 4-3 vote, the city council hired a consulting firm to investigate the city’s options for connectivity. For $69,000, the firm will answer Newark's questions, and the city will attempt to make an informed decision on the possibility of a municipal network.

Process for a Feasibility Study

As we reported in September, residents have driven the push toward a publicly owned network; the city council took notice and began considering the possibility. In October 2015, They hosted a public meeting to bring together community stakeholders and interested residents. At that point, community leaders heard from a consulting company about what a feasibility study would entail.

Originally priced at $10,000 for a basic analysis, the cost of the feasibility study increased to $69,000 over the next several months because the city council chose to expand the depth of the study. They wanted an extensive analysis of all the options, especially connecting to the local University of Delaware to any proposed municipal network. At the city council meeting in December, members decided to greenlight the feasibility study. The funding will come out of the budget for the Legislative Department’s legal and consulting services.

Why A Municipal Network?

In 2014, the city installed smart electric and water meters which run on a Wi-Fi mesh network. Having greater connectivity could encourage expansion for other uses. High-quality Internet access for businesses and residents, high-speed data transport for local healthcare clinics, parking meters, surveillance, public safety, and cloud computing are only few potential uses for a municipal fiber network. 

With the city’s thriving downtown and strong sense of community, it takes little to imagine the addition of a municipal network:

Is It Worth It?

Whether or not to fund a feasibility study was a point of contention among the city council. Councilwoman Marge Hadden pushed back on that notion. Even if the feasibility study reveals that a municipal network is not the best choice for Newark, the potential benefits should be explored:

“$69,000 is a big investment, but it’s an investment in the community,”

Member Owned Networks Collaborate for Rural Georgia Libraries

A member-owned nonprofit network and a telecommunications cooperative are helping seven regional libraries in mountainous northeast Georgia improve services for patrons with fast, affordable, reliable connectivity.

Collaboration for Community

The North Georgia Network Cooperative (NGN), in partnership with member-owned Georgia Public Web (GPW), recently launched 100 Megabit per second (Mbps) symmetrical broadband access speeds in seven library facilities in the Northeast Georgia Regional Library system (NEGRLS). Upgrades in some of the locations were significant. At the Helen library campus, the facility switched from a 6 Mbps download DSL connection to the new service.

The new initiative also enables the complementary “NGN Connect” service which includes hosted Wi-Fi service and a VoIP telephone system at each location. The upgrade extends from the cooperative's role in the Education Exchange, Georgia's only regional 10 Gigabit per second (Gbps) private cloud for exclusive use by school systems launched last September.

Helping Rural Georgians Help Themselves

Donna Unger, director of member services for NGN, explained NGN’s mission for the project:

I've often heard libraries build communities, it's very fitting that we are here today celebrating the new 100 Mbps connection to the Northeast Georgia Regional Library System provided by NGN Connect. This is what we're about, NGN's foundation was built upon the communities in which we serve. It's becoming more critical for libraries, government, education and businesses alike to have reliable and affordable bandwidth to meet the daily demands of the ever-changing dynamics of today's digital world.

NEGRLS Director Delana L. Knight highlighted the initiative’s benefits:

Offering free access to this important resource is another way that our local public libraries are empowering our communities by providing support for job seekers, students, as well as almost limitless educational and entertainment opportunities for all citizens.

The 21st Century Library

At a time when our economy depends so heavily on fast, affordable, reliable connectivity, centralized libraries with high-speed Internet access remain vital to those still lacking it at home. GPW and NGN display a manner common among publicly owned networks - they are concerned less with profit than with serving their communities. Paul Belk, NGN's CEO, explained the philosophy behind this approach:

The strength of our communities, our economy, and workforce all starts in our schools...as a community-owned company, it’s our job to give back and use our resources to better the next generation.

Read more about the NGN and listen to Chris interview David Muschamp of GPW in episode 156 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast.

In New England, Greenfield Votes For a Municipal Network Too

It wasn’t just Colorado cities and counties along with Iowa communities voting this week. Back east, Greenfield, Massachusetts also rushed to the polls to support local Internet choice.

Greenfield is planning to use a combination of fiber and Wi-Fi to deliver services - an approach that has had limited success in the past due to the technical limitations of Wi-Fi. 

The Vote

At Tuesday’s Annual Meeting, residents voted on the future of high-speed Internet access in the town. The referendum, the first step in creating a municipal broadband network, saw a landslide victory. 

The people gave a resounding message that they wanted to pursue a network: 3,287 people voted in favor; only 696 were opposed. According to the local paper the Recorder, this nonbinding ballot referendum allows the town to create a nonprofit to run the municipal broadband network. 

Currently there is a pilot program on two streets – giving residents a taste of community-owned high-speed Internet. This pilot program started in mid-October and provides free Wi-Fi on Main and High Streets. If voters had rejected the ballot referendum, the town would have ended the pilot program and only created an institutional network for the municipal and school buildings. Now, with the referendum passed, they can implement the plan for high-speed Internet access.

The Plan for Broadband

When the state built a middle-mile network running through the cities of Greenfield and Holyoke, the mayor contacted Holyoke’s municipal light plant to find out how to best utilize the opportunity. Holyoke is now the Internet Service Provider for City Hall and the police station. These will then serve as Internet access nodes for Greenfield’s new network.

The community's goal is to construct a 60-mile hybrid fiber-wireless network throughout the entire town by the end of 2016. The network will have a 10 Gigabit-per-second fiber backbone.  Now that the referendum passed, the project will go out to bid and construction will begin in early January. The total cost is estimated at about $5 million – the town intends to use revenues from the network to pay for the construction.

In an October, Mayor Martin described the community's initiative to replace the old infrastructure the community now relies on:

Martin said the goal of the project is to improve the business climate and quality of life in Greenfield. He said he wants everyone who wants high-speed Internet to be able to afford it.

We have yet to see a robust Wi-Fi network that actually sees meaningful adoption by households because the technology has such limited range and variable reliability. The result is that very few people are willing to pay for Wi-Fi connectivity, especially as they have come to expect higher capacity connections than a shared Wi-Fi network can deliver. We will be watching to see how Greenfield develops.

MuniWireless Works in Lompoc…Just The Way They Like It

The early 2000s created a boom of both public and private wireless projects throughout the U.S., but many struggled with unrealistic expectations and flopped. Successful muni wireless networks transformed themselves, adapting to the changing needs of the communities. Some, such as Sandy, Oregon, have transitioned to Fiber-To-The-Home (FTTH) networks where the high-speed fiber-optic cable is hooked up directly to the home. Others repurposed their networks to provide other needed services -- like in Lompoc, California.

Lompoc transformed its $4 million muniwireless network, LompocNet, into a full-fledged Broadband Utility. Originally, the city council hatched the idea of a subscriber-based Wi-Fi network, but times changed quickly. Now, the Broadband Utility primarily provides much-needed internal connectivity for city services.

New Role: City Services

In this small city of about 42,000 people, the Broadband Utility operates a Wide Area Network (WAN) for municipal services. The electric and water utilities use the network for their smart-meters, which automatically provide usage information to the city utilities. Police video cameras transmit their feeds across the service, improving public safety. The Broadband Utility also provides the city’s phone and data services, and and has begun to connect some municipal buildings with fiber-optic cable. The Broadband Utility’s role has increased in importance; Lompoc’s franchise agreement with Comcast expired at the end of 2014, so now the Broadband Utility is beginning to function as an Institutional Network, connecting public buildings.

Lompoc’s approach to broadband may seem inverted to those used to the concept of incremental build-outs, but it worked for the city. In an incremental build-out, a small section of the network is built for a specific purpose and the revenues from that section pay for the next expansion. Lompoc decided to do the opposite: blanket the city completely and immediately with low-cost Internet access via Wi-Fi.

From Being a Flop to Being On Top

More than 10 years ago, in 2002, Lompoc faced a common, but frustrating problem – Comcast’s services. Comcast was slowly rolling out DSL in the community, but the cost of cable TV services still seemed too high to the city council. The Mayor Pro Tem at the time, DeWayne Holmdahl, traveled to Florida with the city manager to a municipal broadband conference to explore solutions. Inspired by the stories at the conference, they returned with an idea: a municipal utility for cable and Internet services.

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The City Council agreed to look into the matter and hired a consultant to perform a study[PDF] in 2003. The options:

  1. Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network, financed through bonds, with a capital cost of $26.5 million (not including the cost of operation and maintenance)
  2. Wi-Fi mesh network, financed through a loan from the municipal Electric Utility to be repaid with revenue funds from the network, with a capital cost of $1 million (not including the cost of operation and maintenance)

The FTTH project would be city-wide and include triple-play: phone, TV, and Internet. The Wi-Fi plan would blanket the city with affordable basic Internet access. According to Holdmahl, the city council recognized that the FTTH project would be too costly. Although a Wi-Fi network could not provide triple-play services, the network could still serve residents.

Technical problems delayed the network from taking off with residential users, and the network languished until the end of 2007. Then Richard Gracyk came on as Broadband Services Administrator changing the network’s technical management system. The number of subscribers quickly leapt to about 1,000 and plateaued.

After the city spent $4 million to construct, operate, and maintain the network, the project was declared 'revenue neutral' in 2012, and LompocNet could begin to recoup its investment. Generating revenue from the network now looked promising.

Residential Users: Cord Cutters and the Digital Divide

Although the Broadband Utility has started to focus more on city services, the residential program is still robust. The network has about a 1,000 customers a month - LompocNet does not use the term "subscribers." The residential Wi-Fi requires no contract. The Internet bill is added to their city utility account - an easy, all-in-one payment. People are not locked into the service, but have the option to use it as needed. 

The services they offer have expanded since the early days of the network. The technology has grown more extensive as the Broadband Utility uses a blended network of different equipment and providers. Offering three tiers for residential users (ranging from $15.99 - $35.99) and base-level packages for visitors (from $4.99 - $9.99), the network appeals to cord-cutters (people who want to move away from subscriptions) and lower income people, priced out by other Internet services.

Former Mayor Pro Tem, and current city councilmember, Holmdahl explained that he has been a loyal customer of the Broadband Utility since its inception. He uses it for both his home and for his business as a travelling notary, saying “it works just the way we like to have it work.” That’s the key to any successful program: it works just the way the community likes it to work.

After Gutting the Gulf, BP Funds Pave Path to Better Broadband

Communities along Mississippi's Gulf coast have recently suffered through disasters both natural and not, from Hurricane Katrina to BP's Deepwater Horizon blowout and aftermath. But they are investing some of the relief funds into infrastructure of the future to help recover. 

Biloxi and Gulfport city officials recently passed resolutions approving an intergovernmental agreement to bring better connectivity to Mississippi Coastal communities. The vote was the next step in the Mississippi Gulf Coast Fiber Ring initiative announced this summer by Biloxi Mayor Andrew "FoFo" Gilich to encourage municipal networks in the region.

The agreement will establish the Gulf Coast Broadband Commission, a public utility  charged with deploying, operating, and maintaining a fiber optic network in and between the two cities. The agreement also specifically grants the Commission the ability to seek out financing to perform its function. Other municipalities and counties can join the agreement as members after the Commission is established.

If other local governments want to participate, they must agree to minimum standards for expansion. Members must promise to offer symmetrical gigabit connectivity, commit to serve every residence and business within a community within 7 years of joining, agree to offer free public Wi-Fi, and require ISPs using the infrastructure to have a local customer service presence. The agreement requires state approval before it is finalized.

In July, Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant pledged $15 million to the project from the fund created by the Restore Act. The Act establishes how the state will disburse $2.2 billion paid by British Petroleum as fines for the Deepwater Horizon disaster in 2010. Biloxi settled with BP in a separate suit, accepting approximately $5 million and is considering directing at least some of those funds toward municipal fiber deployment.

In addition to Deepwater Horizon, the area never fully recovered from Hurricane Katrina. The region has lost thousands of jobs since 2008 and local officials hope improved connectivity will help bring a new economy to the Coast.

Newly elected Biloxi mayor Andrew "FoFo" Gilich says strong broadband capabilities are critical for bringing in new development.

"What's your bandwidth? That's one of the first things people ask," he says. "If I'm going to put 10 jobs here, support jobs or even R&D jobs, it's very important."