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."