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on June 10, 2015 at 1:00 PM, updated June 10, 2015 at 2:07 PM
Remember Mayor Tommy Battle’s goal of turning Huntsville into a “Gig City” with ultra-fast Internet download speeds?
Mission accomplished – and then some.
On Wednesday, executives from Mobile-based Southern Light announced plans to build a 120-mile-long loop of fiber cables around Huntsville and Madison capable of transmitting data at a blistering 100 gigabits per second.
Southern Light President and CEO Andy Newton said the company will invest about $15 million initially on a fiber network aimed at business users that deal in large amounts of electronic data. Think universities, hospitals, banks, aerospace and defense firms, the Army.
“We’re excited about bringing this world-class infrastructure to North Alabama,” Newton said during a news conference outside the Huntsville-Madison County Chamber of Commerce.
“Any bandwidth you see available in Los Angeles or New York or Washington, D.C., will be available here in Huntsville and Madison, on our network.”
Southern Light hopes to start construction on its fiber network in a couple of weeks and connect the first business users three to six months from now, said Chief Operating Officer Eric Daniels.
While Southern Light plans to focus on business clients in Huntsville, its fiber network could spur much faster residential download speeds.
Newton said any communications company will be able to pay to use Southern Light’s network to reach their own Internet customers.
“We’re an open-access provider,” he said. “Once the infrastructure is in place, other companies can ride our network to get to a residential area and provide service.”
Newton said Southern Light’s core network in Huntsville will be capable of transmitting data at terabyte speeds. That’s 1,000 gigabits per second. Fiber arteries branching off that main backbone to business customers will be able to move data at speeds up to 100 gigabits per second, he said.
Along with a primary fiber loop ringing the city – most of it will be buried underground in public rights of way – Southern Light plans to build a smaller ring of optical fibers around Cummings Research Park.
Also, Southern Light is in discussions with Redstone Arsenal officials to bring its fiber network onto the base. Daniels said the company already serves 15 military bases along the Gulf Coast.
“The Department of Defense has been one of our biggest customers since our inception,” he said. “Redstone Arsenal will obviously be a big push.”
At least one prominent Huntsville business has already revealed plans to sign up with Southern Light. HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnolgy IT Director Peyton McNully said the ability to transmit large amounts of electronic data quickly is crucial to HudsonAlpha’s work in DNA sequencing, research and development, and other fields.
“We know this is going to make us more successful and viable as we compete for both jobs and continued growth in science,” McNully said at the news conference.
In late May, the Huntsville City Council approved a franchise agreement that allows Southern Light to install its fiber cables within the public right of way. The contract says Southern Light will pay Huntsville a quarterly “use fee” of $2,000 or 5 percent of gross revenues – whichever is greater. The deal runs for 10 years.
“Connecting to the outside world is very crucial to a high-tech community,” Battle said Wednesday. “To be competitive on the worldwide platform, we have to have this.”
Southern Light also has a franchise agreement to serve the City of Madison.
Meanwhile, Huntsville officials continue to review proposals from 13 other communications providers interested in offering high-speed, fiber-based Internet to both homes and businesses. The proposals were submitted in April after the city asked for potential partners capable of increasing citywide download speeds to at least one gigabit per second.