Decatur, Ala., Gets Huge Fiber Optic Upgrade

A local fiber optic company already has about 10 miles of underground fiber optic lines in downtown Decatur and plans to install at least 40 miles more.

by Bayne Hughes, The Decatur Daily, Ala. / February 17, 2017
Photo Courtesy of Shutterstock

(TNS) -- A fiber optic company’s $10 million commitment to expanding its high-speed broadband capacity in Decatur could help diversify the city’s economy while possibly adding Wi-Fi access to downtown, city officials said.

Southern Light, a Mobile-based company, announced Wednesday morning an agreement with the city of Decatur to expand high-speed broadband capacity.

The company committed to installing at least 50 miles of lines with a 1 terabyte-per-second core capacity in the city for commercial, government and nonprofits. Customers can access up to 100 gigabytes per second.

The company already has about 10 miles of underground fiber optic lines in downtown Decatur. These lines serve City Hall and its Cain Street annexes, the L&N Depot, the Old State Bank, Turner-Surles Community Resource Center, Ogle Stadium, Morgan County Jail and the Morgan County Courthouse.

Rick Paler, executive director of the Decatur Downtown Redevelopment Authority, said Southern Light’s service also provides an opportunity to possibly provide open Wi-Fi access in downtown Decatur.

“We’re working with the city and Southern Light to make that happen,” Paler said.

Andy Newton, president and chief executive officer of Southern Light, said the expansion will begin in downtown Decatur and expand outward as businesses sign on as customers. Cost for customers will depend on their service demands.

Newton said his company uses only fiber optic lines, while many of its competitors “still use antiquated copper. Our lines are 100 percent fiber, so there aren’t any bottlenecks.”

Mayor Tab Bowling said the franchise agreement with Southern Light does not include any incentives or tax abatements, but Newton said the city’s cooperation and lack of fees helped the expansion plans move more quickly.

“We’re thrilled to now be a gigabyte city,” Bowling said Wednesday.

Jeremy Nails, president and CEO of the Morgan County Economic Development Association, said high-speed internet access will help the city in the goal to diversify its economy.

Decatur has been an industrial city since the late 1940s, but city leaders have been vocal in recent years that they want to attract more high-tech companies that pay higher wages.

“It’s always good to have options for companies in fiber internet,” Nails said. “Companies like 3-GIS and Magnolia River depend on high speed, and they like being downtown.”

3-GIS owner Tom Counts said his search for a dependable high-speed internet service began when his company, which provides Web-based fiber network design and management software, located on Market Street Northeast about 11 years ago.

3-GIS switched to Southern Light about six months ago, and the company is now getting the quality, consistent internet service it has to have, he said.

“We’re still in the honeymoon period, but it’s been a fabulous six months,” Counts said.

Counts said he believes Decatur must have access to a high-speed internet “of at least a gigabyte (per second) if it wants to continue being a successful bedroom community of Huntsville.”

Bowling said Southern Light’s announcement also could be key to helping existing industries such as United Launch Alliance.

“ULA is the only company the (U.S.) Department of Defense is using to take payloads into space that impact national security,” Bowling said.

Bowling said ULA is preparing to introduce new space vehicles for this service, “so we want to find a way in Decatur to help them transition toward producing these vehicles here.”

©2017 The Decatur Daily (Decatur, Ala.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.