New fiber project may advance Gulf Coast Broadband Initiative

A year-long effort of the Gulf Coast Broadband Initiative to establish timely, redundant, universal and affordable ultra-high speed Internet connectivity has stimulated a large scale infrastructure investment that could eventually provide between one-third to one-half of the public fiber network.

At a news conference this morning in Biloxi City Hall, InLine, an Internet Service Provider, and Coast Electric Power Association announced an agreement to install more than 100 miles of fiber optic cable from Hancock County to Biloxi. InLine will own the network and sell space to Coast Electric. According to InLine officials, the deal was struck because of the GCBI’s commitment to more quickly bring ultra-high speed Internet to the people and businesses of the Mississippi Coast.

Biloxi Mayor Andrew “FoFo” Gilich and Gulfport Mayor Billy Hewes said the infrastructure provides a phenomenal impetus that could significantly move the needle on the broadband project. Gilich and Hewes praised InLine and Coast Electric for their investment to build 100-plus miles of fiber infrastructure, which could be available to the GCBI for acquisition under competitive state procurement laws. InLine officials said the project was spurred by the creation of the GCBI.

“We had talked with Coast Electric for a long time about a project, but this deal would not have happened if not for the determined efforts of Mayor Gilich and Mayor Hewes, and the rest of the local governments involved in the GCBI,” said Martin Costa, president of InLine.

“We are very fortunate that the mayors and other elected leaders of the Gulf Coast, as well as the leadership of Coast Electric Power Association understand the importance of broadband and what it can do for the community,” Costa added. “We believe the northern part of the fiber ring that the GCBI envisioned last year will soon become reality. And we’re confident that leaders in Harrison, Hancock and Jackson counties will continue to support this vision, and look back one day on the huge impact broadband expansion has had on the Mississippi Coast.”

GCBI’s goal is to establish a Fiber Ring or “Middle Mile” around the Coast, then lease space to ISPs in order to accelerate the delivery of affordable, ultra-high-speed Internet services to homes and businesses, and lower monthly costs to the end users by stimulating competition. Gilich said, “We must not allow a digital divide. Ultra-high-speed broadband must be affordable and available to every household, regardless of family income. All students in every school should be able to do homework on affordable, ultra-high-speed Internet service, in order to compete with their peers around the world.”

In his comments, Gilich also credited Gov. Phil Bryant with stimulating affordable, ultra-high-speed broadband expansion on the Coast by committing $15 million of BP RESTORE Act money last year. Gilich and Hewes teamed to coordinate a Coast-wide effort to pursue a minimum 1-Gig Internet connectivity.

On behalf of GCBI, Biloxi spent months recruiting partners from local municipalities and counties. Currently 10 of the Coast’s 12 cities and two of its three counties are members of GCBI. Of the Coast’s 15 local governments, only Moss Point, Pascagoula and Jackson County have not yet joined.

The GCBI model has been praised by C Spire, a leading Mississippi ISP, as offering the best plan for more quickly and more cost-effectively bringing affordable, ultra-high-speed broadband expansion to the Mississippi Coast.

Said Gilich: “Affordable, ultra-high speed Internet connection is critical to the Coast being able to compete with the rest of the country and the world in economic development and for quality of life.”
See photos from the announcement moments ago
Read background on the Gulf Coast Broadband Initiative