TUPELO – An effort to enhance and upgrade internet access across the city is emerging as a major second term priority for Mayor Jason Shelton.

Specifically, Shelton has moved in recent weeks to seriously examine the possibility of an expanded fiber optic cable network within Tupelo.

Optical fiber cables provide faster internet access than traditional copper wiring. In a fiber optic network, information is transmitted across glass tubes a little thicker than a human hair.

These networks are less susceptible to interference than copper wiring.

Shelton and key figures from his administration traveled to Florida last week to learn more about fiber optics at a trade association conference.

Plans are also underway to form a task force that will coordinate local efforts around the issue.

A fiber optic cable loop currently encircles the city. Tupelo Water & Light installed the loop to provide remote access and control over the city’s power substations, said TWL Director Johnny Timmons.

That fiber loop will also enable automated meter reading, a proposal TWL is still working to implement.

At City Hall, however, there is enthusiasm to expand the TWL loop and construct a so-called “backbone” that can support citywide residential internet access over fiber optic cable.

“The goal is to have it in place this term,” Shelton said.

A plethora of options are under examination to accomplish this goal.

“We are looking at whether the city should bear the expense of building that backbone citywide or if we should use some kind of public/private hybrid,” Shelton said.

The mayor believes that an expansive fiber optic network in the city will boost Tupelo’s desirability, particularly for the young professionals he wants to call the city home.

“We want to provide the incentive for people that need that high speed internet to live here,” Shelton said.

Once a robust fiber optic network is in place, Shelton’s administration has discussed the possibility of a partnership with a private provider who would actually offer the residential access and manage the customer base.

A fully-owned city system, comparable in scope to the city-owned water and electrical utilities, is possible but not currently favored by Shelton’s administration.

“It’s not likely,” the mayor said.

According to Chief Finance Officer Kim Hanna, use arrangement with a private provider would involve leasing access to city-owned infrastructure.

Over the last decade, the Mississippi Economic Growth Alliance and Point of Presence (MEGAPOP) has helped spearhead efforts to construct over 800 miles of fiber infrastructure in north Mississipi.

Tupelo Chief Operations Officer Don Lewis said MEGAPOP will be involved in efforts to expand Tupelo’s fiber infrastructure.

caleb.bedillion@journalinc.com Twitter: @CalebBedillion

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