Special to the
Opelika Observer

President Barack Obama this week brought into sharp focus a huge void in America’s communication technology: the lack of high speed Internet service throughout the country. “Often in rural areas, there is no service, or in many metropolitan areas there is only one provider, resulting in higher prices,” he said.
The president’s initial remarks were made in Cedar Falls, Iowa, where its city-owned fiber service, Cedar Falls Utilities, was recently introduced. Those same comments could have been made in Opelika. A city of approximately 30,000 people, Opelika introduced city-owned ultra high-speed broadband network via a new fiber-optic smart grid in April 2013 for “beta” customers.
Planning for the new network started in 2008. Opelika completed a feasibility study in 2008, proving the viability of a system, followed by a public hearing and city-wide referendum in the summer of 2010, in which citizens approved the initiative. Construction on the project began in 2011, with roughly $43 million invested into the network. Since its introduction of residential packages in 2013, Opelika Power Services began offering its network to local businesses summer 2014.
Opelika is the only municipality in the state of Alabama that owns and operates a 100 percent fiber network. It is owned by the citizens of Opelika as part of Opelika Power Services and is the only GIG network in Alabama offering services to both residential and commercial customers.
According to Mayor Gary Fuller, who spearheaded the initiative, the city had three goals: to upgrade its electrical grid, provide more broadband choices for residents and businesses and further strengthen its economic development platform to attract new businesses and employment opportunities.
“Opelika is located 30 minutes from Columbus, Ga., we’re adjacent to Auburn University, and we’re just an hour away from Atlanta’s International airport,” Fuller said. “We’re already a hub for tier one and two automotive suppliers and have a diverse economic base. As the only city in Alabama offering a gigabit network, we’re positioned to attract the most data-hungry companies in the world.”
David Horton, director of Opelika Power Services, reiterated that the network opens many doors for businesses. “This is the ultimate tool for entrepreneurs, for established companies looking to become game-changers,” Horton said. “Opelika is now a city without limitations, big city connectivity and lifestyle, without the hassle of big-city impediments.”
Opelika Power Services’ 100 percent fiber-optic “Fiber to the Premises” system delivers up to one gigabit of data to businesses and homes. Bundles of Internet, television and phone are offered in several tiers. With the system passing by 16,000 homes, Opelika projects the initial investment will be recouped within 10 years.
June Owens, manager of marketing and communications for Opelika Power Services, said she believes the network is a fundamental aspect of the city’s advancement. “The development of this fiber infrastructure is as important today as the building of the railroads in the mid-1800s and the interstate highway system starting in 1956. The 1911 investment that the city made in Opelika Light and Power can’t be overlooked as the springboard for a huge economic advantage,” Owens said. “This fiber network will allow the city of Opelika to change its entire landscape.”
So the next time a high-ranking government figure is stressing the importance of municipalities providing powerful fiber optic networks, look for the story to be centered on Opelika and Opelika Power Services.