Talking Fiber In Tupelo

Tupelo, Mississippi, received a special visit from President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1935 to celebrate the community as the “First TVA City.” The title described the community’s new electrification by the Tennessee Valley Authority, an event that incorporated federal assistance, local workers, and the start of rural electrification. Now, Tupelo is aiming for publicly owned fiber.

Yesterday Electricity...Today Fiber

Community leaders haven’t decided on a model yet, but they recently expressed an interest in expanding the Tupelo Water & Light fiber optic loop that runs around the city. The exiting network provides communications and management between utilities substations. Their goal is to put the infrastructure in place and collaborate with a private sector provider to bring better connectivity to local residents and businesses.

The Daily Journal reported that the project is a priority for the current administration:

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.

Tupelo, Lee County, Mississippi

The city used to be well known as a transportation hub in the days when railroad intersections created busy urban centers. In recent years, Tupelo has capitalized on its bragging rights as the birthplace of Elvis Presley and as the location of the Trace State Park. Hikers start or end their long journey on the Natchez Trace Parkway, a 444-mile trail that was used by Native Americans and Explorers. The trail is a historic trek attracting nature enthusiasts.

In addition to tourism, Tupelo has attracted manufacturers such as Toyota, Cooper Tire & Rubber, and a large furniture manufacturing facility. Two large banking institutions make their headquarters in the city of about 36,000 people. The community is located in the northeast corner of the state. As the county seat and the seventh largest city in the state, Tupelo has cable and DSL connectivity from some of the large ISPs, but businesses increasingly need the fast and reliable connectivity that fiber offers.

Undecided But Ready To Roll With Local Support

While the model is still undetermined, Tupelo’s Mayor is anxious to get the project underway so they can start reaping the benefits:

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

The Daily Journal's leadership recognizes the importance of fast affordable connectivity to the community and recently published an editorial supporting the initiative. They recognized that Tupelo has been noticed as a desireable micropolitan but in order to stay that way, connectivity needs to improve. Editors wrote about the Mayor's stated goal to build the fiber optic network as soon as reasonably possible:

That’s a beneficial and important goal to set for the future of our community for a number of reasons. In order for Tupelo to continue growing, we need to be attracting the young people who will hopefully become the future leaders of our community in the next several decades. High-speed internet can be an important piece of the puzzle to do that, while also opening other doors for businesses and industry to explore.