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City Touts Beginning of Private Investment in Widespread Fiber Broadband Network

Elected officials including Mayor Paul Young (second from left) and City Council members
Katie Riordan
Elected officials including Mayor Paul Young (second from left) and City Council members JB Smiley and Pearl Walker (center) attend a groundbreaking ceremony to mark the beginning of the buildout of a fiber broadband network that will cover the majority of Memphis.

A multi-year infrastructure project to expand fiber broadband across most of Memphis is now underway.

At a ceremonial groundbreaking Tuesday in the Colonial Acres neighborhood, elected officials touted the public-private partnership with the company Blue Suede Networks that they say will bring Memphis up to speed with access to high-speed broadband internet.

Currently only about 25 percent of the population has access to top-of-the-line broadband, according to the mayor’s office, which has contributed to a digital divide.

Spurred by business incentives from the city, Blue Suede Networks is building a more than $820 million fiber optic network that 85 percent of the city’s homes and businesses will be able to access.

Contractually, the new network must run through a majority of low-income neighborhoods.

“There are some zip codes like 38126 where over 80 percent of the residents were not connected to any form of high-speed internet,” Mayor Paul Young said. "We want to make sure that's changed for the future of our community."

He added that the pandemic highlighted the importance of modern internet infrastructure, particularly for students faced with online learning.

“We know that this type of connectivity is just as important as sewer, roads and electricity because this is the way that 21st century residents are going to connect to the rest of the world,” Young said.

Completion of the network, he says, will take five to seven years.

A company called Ting says it will provide internet services via the network starting this year at $89 a month for a two-gigabit symmetrical plan.

The head of Blue Suede Networks, Charles Elliot, said that the company is working with the city of Memphis on a “digital equity program” that will help provide subsidies for internet devices and digital skills training.

Ting said in apress release last year that the federal Affordable Connectivity Program, which subsidizes broadband in low-income households, would help the company offer free services to qualifying residents.

However, Congress did not renew funding for the ACP, and it's coming to an end, which could leave millions of Americans without assistance for their internet bills. Ting estimates that 40 percent of Shelby County residents were eligible for the program.

Katie is a part-time WKNO contributor. She's always eager to hear your story ideas. You can email her at kriordan@wkno.org