Small Town Fiber Fest: From Zero to Gigabit Hero

ABOVE Adtran Vice President of Marketing Gary Bolton, far right, moderates a session on acquiring gig status.

They came from Dothan and Decatur, Columbiana and Cullman, Shelby County and Rainbow City. Some traveled from afar: Kentucky, Georgia, Mississippi and Tennessee. They were on a pilgrimage, to Gig City Huntsville, to learn how to make their towns and communities bristle with broadband capabilities.

Adtran, the global provider of networking and communications equipment for voice, data, video and internet, served as host March 21 to the Mid-South Communities Fiber Forum at its Huntsville campus. The all-day event brought in more than 100 attendees for presentations by business and community leaders of gigabit deployment, along with a networking lunch and optional tour of the facility.

The stakes are high, according to Gary Bolton, vice president of marketing for Adtran, who moderated one of the day’s panels. “Having broadband in a community is no longer a luxury, it’s critical for a community to bridge the digital divide, ” he says. Introducing broadband to a city not only increases its economic productivity, it also improves land and property values and makes recruiting industry easier.

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The communities drawn to the Mid-South Communities Fiber Forum tend to be starting on the ground floor. They’re eager for success stories. To that end, the session “How Huntsville Became a Gig City” was anchored by Wes Kelley and Stacy Cantrell, of Huntsville Utilities, and Harrison Diamond, Huntsville’s business relations officer.

Huntsville’s municipal authority didn’t want to be a service provider but was willing to contribute. The Rocket City solution came from a public-private partnership that let Google take over running the network as soon as fiber was run to the front of each house in a neighborhood, with Google paying the city on a per-home basis whether the home hooked up to the service or not.

Not every city, Bolton concedes, has a Google in its back yard. The conference offered financial modeling to coach community leaders on varied programs from around the country that deliver fat web.

For example, the rural community of Stevenson in north Alabama upgraded its internet capabilities with fiber optics, allowing people who had been commuting to Huntsville to work from home.

While some might think it’s a chicken or egg scenario — do only robust communities warrant broadband or do we need broadband first to support a robust community? — the truth is that businesses won’t be drawn to a data desert, Bolton says.

Text by Dave Helms

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