Mississippi ranks near the bottom when it comes to available broadband internet access. Electric cooperatives are on a mission to help change that.
Four co-op boards have approved plans to enter the retail broadband space just months after the bipartisan Mississippi Broadband Enabling Act took effect.
The new law authorizes—but does not mandate—electric co-ops to pursue retail broadband through an affiliate separate from their service as energy providers. The state legislature passed the bill in January and it was quickly signed into law by Gov. Phil Bryant.
The co-ops commissioned multiple feasibility studies to inform their boards’ decisions on forming a fiber-to-the-home service.
“Bringing readily accessible, reliable high-speed internet to rural areas is the 21st century equivalent to rural electrification,” TVEPA Board Chairman Will Hays said. “The overwhelming response from our members also confirmed our studies, and we began to move forward.”
In creating Tallahatchie Valley Internet Services (TVI-Fiber), the board also changed TVEPA’s Articles of Incorporation to conform to the new state law, a move that members quickly approved, the co-op said.
TVI-Fiber will begin the $60 million, three-phase, 48-month buildout in mid-September. The co-op has applied for a grant from ReConnect, one of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s rural broadband programs, and plans to pursue others.
“We are excited for the opportunity to be able to provide the services that our members so greatly desire,” said Brad Robison, TVEPA general manager and CEO. “We are a very rural system serving parts of the Mississippi Delta and grant monies would be a tremendous help to the project.”
Prentiss Connect plans to break ground in October on its 1,050-mile smart grid project and broadband for nearly 14,000 members. With 13 meters per mile of powerline, the fiber buildout is expected to be completed within two years at a cost of $23.5 million, said Ronny Rowland, co-op general manager.
“I have been involved in trying to get broadband service in North Mississippi for almost 20 years,” said Rowland. “Co-ops could not provide broadband services until our state law was changed this January. This is certainly an exciting opportunity to move our state forward and to provide what most consider a necessity of life today.”
Tombigbee EPA said its estimated $95 million broadband project across its 43,350-member service territory will proceed in four phases, each subject to board approval.
“High-speed data capabilities are no longer a luxury but a necessity for the economic growth and continued viability of rural living,” said Bill Long, TEPA’s general manager. “With the recent changes in Mississippi legislation allowing co-ops to provide broadband, we view it as our role and responsibility to serve this need.”
Listen to a recent NRECA podcast episode on rural broadband:
Cathy Cash is a staff writer at NRECA.