Selma’s infrastructure could go high-speed

Published 10:21 pm Saturday, February 15, 2014

Every city has its problems and Selma’s faults are usually cited more often than the positives about our community.

Money is tight, but Selma needs a clear vision of where it’s going to ensure a bright future and perhaps a population growth. One of the most crucial investments that Selma should make is in its infrastructure — roads, bridges and sewer lines. Most buildings and parts of our city date back to before my parents had even considered having a child.

Infrastructure projects are admittedly expensive and money in Selma is tight.

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Rather than just focusing on playing catch up to the rest of the world, our city should push forward and become a hub for innovation. Don’t get me wrong. Roads are critically important, but so is staying up-to-date with the rest of society.

But how?

Perhaps the most important investment Selma can make is in technology. At one point, Selma planned to install citywide wireless Internet. It’s still a project that Mayor George Evans says he is working to complete.

One important consideration though is Internet speed. Some cities are beginning to install fiber cables, which boost Internet speed to mind-numbing levels. For example Chattanooga, Tenn. now enjoys Internet speeds nearly 50 times an average speed in many other areas of the country and certainly in Dallas County. Chattanooga says the investment has created about 1,000 jobs in the last three years.

The story of Chattanooga is similar to ours. Former factory buildings have received a facelift — now loft apartments, offices, restaurants and shops. Downtown Selma may not have any factories, but has its share of old buildings that could be repurposed.

Chattanooga isn’t the only city that has taken such steps. Lafayette, La. and Bristol Va. have also built gigabit networks. Google Fiber is a private venture that is building systems in Kansas City, and Austin, Texas.

Phone and cable companies are unlikely to invest in fiber optic Internet, certainly in Dallas County. If our area wants to experience breakneck Internet speeds, city and county officials and legislators have to secure enough funding to purchase and install fiber optic cables.

Faster Internet speeds won’t simply boost the speed at which we enjoy Youtube and Netflix videos.  An investment in a fiber optic network could bring an entirely new kind of industry to our area.

In our current state, most Internet options are just fast enough for residential customers. Businesses can invest in faster Internet, but the cost prevents many start-up companies and entrepreneurs from seeing Selma as its best option.

An investment in fiber optic lines would likely bring down the cost to obtain high speed Internet, at least more so than our current options.

But what kind of companies would need such high speed Internet? One gigabit Internet is fast enough to download a two-hour movie in nearly 30 seconds. Perhaps data centers are the most likely option. A data center could include storage systems, an online backup of files — what many people call the cloud.

The cost to make such an investment would be immense. Adding the time to secure funding with time needed install the lines make the idea seem impossible. An equal effort would need to focus on securing enough power capacity to allow Selma to house these new types of industry.

Large data centers use as much electricity as a small town, but putting fiber optic Internet at the forefront of our area’s master plan would certainly make achieving this mission easier and push Selma forward into the 21st Century.