MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Memphis could become one of the world’s most-wired cities if a plan proceeds for 85% of the city to be connected to fiber internet, according to proponents.
Currently, download speeds in Memphis are among the slowest in the country at 49 Mbps, consultants told Memphis City Council members. In low-income areas, many residents can’t afford broadband access.
But that could change if the city council OKs a plan that would provide fiber internet with at least 1 gigabit of speed to at least 60% of the city and 60% of low-income areas within the city.
Blue Suede Network is poised to invest $700 million to build out the network.
“Our goal with Blue Suede Networks is to make Memphis the most-connected city in America,” said Charles Elliot, Blue Suede Network’s chief information officer.
Mayor Jim Strickland introduced the Smart City Fiber Access System late last month. Tuesday, he made the case to city council.
He’s calling this a “win-win” saying this all comes down to giving everyone in the city equal access, which he says will also bring more business to Memphis.
Fiber internet is the fastest option, Strickland said, but only 28% of Memphis has it, and it’s mostly limited to wealthy areas. If approved, buildout would take five to seven years.
Chattanooga made this upgrade to its infrastructure in 2011, and Strickland said the city has identified $2.7 billion in economic activity and 9,500 new jobs directly related to being a “Gig City.”
Representatives with local institutions, including Memphis-Shelby County Schools, Baptist Memorial Health Care and FedEx, spoke strongly in favor of the project.
“Communities and countries that invest in connectivity, that establish connectivity at high levels, thrive and prosper,” said Rob Carter, chief information officer with FedEx. “This about economic development as much as anything else.”
For citizens, it allows better access to healthcare, education and the ability to become more active participants in the workplace, Carter said.
Meka Egwuekwe, executive director of Code Crew, called it a “once-in-a-generation” opportunity to “future-proof” Memphis.
“We don’t want kids in Memphis to be disadvantaged because they can’t do their homework because they don’t have quality internet at home,” he said.
City council must approve an amended ordinance in committee and full council before anything moves forward. Council attorney Alan Wade said litigation is possible from other broadband providers.
Council member Chase Carlisle said City Council will need time to research the deal before approving anything.
“We understand the need and appreciate the desire to gap the digital divide with the newest technology for the city of Memphis,” Carlisle said. “This is a very significant decision.”