State officials announced grant funding on Tuesday to area electric cooperatives for the deployment of broadband to the unserved and under-served areas of the counties.

ACE Power and the cooperatives in Tishomingo, Prentiss and Tippah counties are among 15 sharing in $65 million in grant funding stemming from COVID-19 relief funds. The grant program was recently established by the Legislature and is intended for immediate-impact projects to help with distance learning and telemedicine, which have become critically important during the pandemic.

Areas that received funding are certain census blocks not covered with broadband service as defined by the FCC (25mbps download, 3 mbps upload), according to Public Service Commissioner Brandon Presley. The electric cooperatives must spend the monies in areas that lack service, match every dollar of grant funds with private funds, and provide symmetrical speeds of 100 mbps upload and download to locations in the area. The portion of each project funded by the grant program must be operational by December 30.

“The lack of broadband access is a major problem that was here before COVID-19, but it has been magnified by the pandemic,” said Presley. “We cannot turn our heads and hope this problem gets fixed. It will take bold action like the grant program established by the Legislature.”

The grants will enable the construction of 2,765 miles of fiber optic cable by the end of 2020 with an additional 1,980 miles of construction by the end of 2021. Service will pass 28,447 homes and businesses by the end of 2020 and an additional 17,309 homes and businesses by the end of 2021.

Sally Doty, executive director of the Mississippi Public Utilities Staff, said during Tuesday’s state briefing that service costs will be in line with that of other internet providers.

“Building out this broadband network is very much like what our co-ops did in the early 1900s to get electricity out to our rural homes,” she said. “Internet is now so integrated in all areas of life – education, medical services, tele-work and economic development, and with the precautions we have to take to protect ourselves against COVID-19, fast and reliable internet is a necessity and really a lifeline to the outside world.”

Each cooperative must provide matching funds.

ACE Power is currently building out a fiber system.

Staff Writer

Jebb Johnston is a 1991 Alcorn Central High School graduate and a 1995 Ole Miss journalism graduate. His primary beats are city and county government.

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