Biloxi, Gulfport to consider agency to foster high-speed internet

Mayors Andrew “FoFo” Gilich of Biloxi and Billy Hewes of Gulfport will ask their respective City Councils on Tuesday to approve a measure to set up the Gulf Coast Broadband Commission, an agency that would plan and oversee the delivery of ultra-high-speed internet and broadband to their cities.

Gilich, who took office four months ago after a career in software development, has promoted the widespread delivery of ultra-high-speed internet access as an economic development tool that would grow business, provide expanded medical and educational opportunities and improve the quality of life for residents.

Such an advance, he said, would be a “quantum leap” for the local economy.

A handful of internet service providers currently offer a spotty patchwork of high-speed internet access in areas of the Coast, but Gilich and Hewes would like to see the service universal and affordable. The mayors envision the new commission operating as a public utility but continue to enjoy an exemption internet service providers have from Public Service Commission regulation.

The resolution proposed by Gilich and Hewes notes that communities across the country have found that large corporate providers of data transmission facilities “do not have sufficient monetary incentive to bring affordable and ubiquitous, ultra-high-speed broadband Internet service unless there are significant public efforts and incentives to bring that technology to a proximity to all homes, businesses and public places.”

The commission, which would be created by an interlocal agreement and also approved by the Mississippi Attorney General, would be tasked with drafting a plan, and constructing and operating the primary regional fiber optic infrastructure that would provide ultra-high-speed internet service in Biloxi and Gulfport.

“Our goal is to have the implementation of the backbone infrastructure started within the year.” Hewes said. “It’s a new day on the Coast, where cities are working with one another to better execute planning and strategy.¬† While Biloxi and Gulfport are taking the lead on this, we are creating an avenue for other communities to join us as we seek to elevate access to technological resources in the market today.”

“The most important thing is to make this service universal and affordable to everyone,” said Gilich, who raised the subject in a meeting with Gov. Phil Bryant just three days after the Biloxi mayor’s election. “Governor Bryant has told us that he would dedicate at least $15 million in state money to this effort, and our challenge is to make sure we chart an effective and accelerated delivery of this important service to all our residents, businesses and public spaces.”
Read the broadband measure on Biloxi agenda