By Othor Cain,
C-Spire, a Mississippi based technology company, headquartered in Ridgeland, is on the front lines of innovation…again. Monday, the company announced a major private sector technology deployment that will launch this fall and promised a massive expansion of ultra-fast broadband internet and wireless fiber-based fixed internet to more than 250,000 consumers and small businesses in cities and towns across the state.
In 2013, C-Spire was on the cutting edge and led the country with its groundbreaking Fiber-to-the-home program. Today, the company is poised to lead again. The C-Spire Tech Movement is an outgrowth of the 2013 initiative, one of the first of its type in the U.S. and the fastest to connect thousands of Mississippi consumers in nine communities around the state to ultra-fast Gigabit speed internet access, digital television and home phone services.
This initiative will focus on underserved areas across the state. Primarily focused in the Mississippi Delta and Northeast Mississippi, these areas will gain internet access speeds of up to 25 Mbps. More markets will be added between now and the end of the year where choices are limited or service from existing providers is slow or inadequate.
“As the state’s leading technology company and one that gets its inspiration from our loyal customers, we have a responsibility to marshal our resources and expertise to equip our communities to effectively compete in the technology revolution and help close the gap on the digital divide,” said C-Spire CEO Hu Meena.
“Digital divide” is a term that refers to the divide between those who have access to, know how to use and can afford digital technology (mobile devices, computers, Internet subscriptions) and those who do not have access, know-how, and the ability to afford the technology.
Lack of access to the technology or the skills to use it is leaving many people behind in an increasingly digital world. In many cases, access to information, education and jobs is available only through online resources. If you don’t know how to browse the web or operate a computer or you cannot afford an Internet subscription, you are missing out on many opportunities.
Children struggle to complete homework and other school-related activities. Job seekers cannot improve their skills using free, online tutorials and cannot search or apply for jobs. People with chronic diseases miss out on programs and resources to help them manage their conditions more effectively. Businesses and communities are less competitive. Government officials and residents miss out on opportunities to engage with each other, which makes them less effective in responding to 21st century challenges.
The digital divide has two ugly faces: lack of access (including affordability) and refusal to adopt the technology. Many times, people and households simply do not have access to the Internet; if they do, the service may be prohibitively expensive. Other times, they have access to the technology but choose not to adopt it because they don’t understand the value of it.
As with any public-policy issue, the first critical step is to define and measure the problem. We know that the digital divide revolves around access and adoption. But can we measure these two components of such an important issue?
According to the latest (2016) Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Broadband Progress Report, Mississippi ranked last in the nation in the availability of fixed broadband technology (not including mobile). Thirty-four percent of the state’s population lacks access to what the FCC considers to be high-speed Internet.
Broadband commonly refers to high-speed Internet access that is always on and much faster than the traditional dial-up systems. Data transfer speed is measured in megabits per second (Mbps); a megabit is 1 million bits of information. The higher the number of megabits, the faster a digital system can retrieve information from the Internet. To meet the FCC’s definition of broadband, a system must provide a download speed of at least 25 Mbps and an upload speed of at least 3 Mbps (or 25/3 for short).
As of June 2015, only three states had populations with more than 30 percent lacking access to 25/3 fixed broadband. On the other end of the scale, only 2 percent of Hawaii’s population lacked access to 25/3 fixed broadband. Areas with greater access to high-speed digital technology enjoy a competitive advantage over areas without adequate access.
Meena said C-Spire is “uniquely positioned to bring consumers and businesses the benefits of the technology revolution.” The company has installed over 8,000 route miles of fiber optic infrastructure and owns and has deployed more wireless spectrum in Mississippi than any other mobile communications carrier.
“Technology is no longer just an industry sector, it is at the epicenter of a revolution that is transforming how we as a society live, work and play,” Meena said. “Today’s announcement is our praise to make this infrastructure a reality as we deploy the latest technologies to reach consumers and businesses with the faster, high quality Internet connections they’ve come to expect from C-Spire.”