Study of city’s broadband internet capabilities underway
By Sabrina Robertson
NATCHEZ — Smart Growth America researchers from Washington, D.C., may have the answer on how to revitalize Natchez and Adams County — faster internet speeds.
Boosting internet speeds would improve the connectivity of emergency services and support job and population growth, officials said, during a full-day workshop Thursday on the second floor of the Natchez Convention Center.
Chesney Doyle, executive director of FOR Natchez, said the gathering also was a phase of the Natchez Revitalization Project, which is a greater scheme to redevelop Downtown Natchez and stimulate economic growth.
“One of the things in the plan is to enhance broadband connectivity so we can make Downtown Natchez a hub for location independent workers and businesses,” Doyle said.
Smart Growth America is a 501(c)(3) organization founded in the early 2000s to help communities improve their quality of life and economic growth.
This year, the group received funding from a U.S. Department of Agriculture rural development grant to visit and provide technical assistance workshops in six different cities throughout the nation, said SGA Senior Policy Advisor John Robert Smith.
“Natchez was chosen to be one of those cities because (Natchez Mayor, Darryl Grennell) reached out to us and said the next opportunity you have, we could sure use the help,” Smith said, adding he and other representatives of SGA had stayed in Natchez for the past two days studying the area from the inside.
“We’ve been studying Natchez for over a month from our offices in Washington, D.C., and the mayor’s staff and others have been sending valuable information to us … but nothing is as informative as walking and driving the city for yourself.”
The study itself did not cost the city a dime, Smith said, and SGA would later send back a report with “next steps” officials may implement. The report would also be shared with U.S.D.A. officials and U.S. Senators to help find funds for its implementation Smith said.
“I’ve lived in Mississippi up until two years ago, so I’ve known Natchez,” Smith said. “It has changed in many positive ways in the last 15 years, but there are still broadband connectivity issues here. However, there is also a strong will to move forward and a sense of collective desire to move to a new future. Natchez honors its past, but doesn’t live there.”
Several community stakeholders attended Thursday’s workshop including representatives from the City of Natchez, the Natchez Adams School District, Natchez Inc., the Historic Natchez Foundation, CSpire, CableOne, and the Natchez Police Department and first responders as well as individuals from the office of U.S. Sens. Roger Wicker and Cindy Hyde-Smith.
During the workshop, Adams County District 1 Supervisor, Mike Lazarus said he heard a lot of the need for improved internet connectivity in Natchez and Adams County and learned of federal programs that could help fund it.
“A lot of what they talked about today was wireless internet and broadband connections,” Lazarus said. “I know we have a lot of problems downtown with WiFi and cell phone service at times … and we get calls all of the time from residents in Beau Pre and Airport Road complaining about internet access. … With us being an opportunity zone, there are more opportunities for grants and low-interest loans that we can be taking advantage of.”