By Nickolaus Hines
Visitors driving into Opelika will be greeted by new city limit signs in the next few weeks.
Mayor Gary Fuller announced at the June 2 city council meeting that the city will install signs that read “Opelika – Alabama’s First Gig City.”
“Gig City” refers to one-gigabit-per-second fiber internet service provided through Opelika Power Services’, OPS, city-owned fiber-optic cable. This cable allows Internet uploading and downloading speeds to be recognizably faster than the national connection average of 6.7 megabit-per-second.
“It’s significant for any city, but even more significant for a city with less than 30,000 people,” said Fuller. “This is world class technology.”
Chattanooga, Tenn., was one of the first cities to garner media attention for fiber optic Internet services in the U.S. Since the cable was installed in 2010, Chattanooga has had a positive impact on regional security, housing, transportation and power outage response. The result has been similar in Opelika.
Opelika Power Services was looking to upgrade power lines to smart grid technology for better response times, while Fuller was working on getting current Internet providers in Opelika to invest further into the city’s broadband capabilities.
“The problem with incumbent providers is their franchise agreement,” Fuller said. “If they don’t have 30 homes per mile, they don’t have to service that area. OPS doesn’t have that restriction.”
Opelika-owned OPS worked with the city to install the fiber optic cables. Around $43 million was invested into the installation.
Opelika has 425 miles of fiber cable throughout the entire incorporated limits of the city, fulfilling a promise to Opelika citizens that the technology will be made available to them, said Fuller. The fiber optic cables also means the city can manage energy on a smart grid that, among other things, allows Opelika to restore power quicker after power outages.
Opelika’s fiber optic cable network is modeled after the network in Chattanooga. Opelika is currently the only municipality in Alabama that owns and operates a 100–percent fiber network.
The most practical Internet speed for residential and small business use offered by OPS in terms of price and speed is 60-megabits-per-second, however, not the one-gigabit-per-second.
Opelika Power Services offers a 60-megabits-per-second package that is competitively priced with other Internet service providers in the area. In addition, OPS allows symmetrical upload and download speeds, which competing Internet and cable providers such as WOW!, AT&T and Comcast don’t provide.
“OPS has speeds not up to 60 (megabits-per-second). It is 60 (megabits-per-second),” Fuller said. Fuller is a customer of OPS, and mentioned how he is able to use the maximum speed advertised by OPS at all times of the day, whereas competing companies advertise “up to” speeds that are not consistently available.
Nineteen signs installed at city entrance points will inform residents and visitors of Opelika’s “Gig City” status when they enter the city, according to Dan Hilyer, Opelika Utilities general manager.
Opelika already has easy transportation along I-85 with its five interchanges, is near an international airport, a university and a community college, Fuller said, and “having this fiber is just one more thing to offer.”