Northcentral, North East get grants
Two electric cooperatives that serve parts of Marshall County are recipients of funding from the Mississippi Electric Cooperatives Broadband COVID-19 grant program.
A total of $65 million was awarded statewide to 15 electric cooperatives. The money will be used for deploying fiber to provide high-speed broadband internet service to rural areas of Mississippi which lack service.
Northcentral Electric Cooperative was awarded a grant of $2,486,837, which will be matched by Northcentral, for a total project amount of almost $5 million.
“We are thrilled to be able to receive these matching funds to help bring fiber internet to the homes in our most underserved areas,” said Kevin Doddridge, Northcentral general manager and CEO. “This grant will enable us to extend service to parts of our service area on a much quicker timeline than we had originally planned.
“We appreciate the hard work of many in the state Legislature, along with Public Utilities Staff Executive Director Sally Doty and her entire team for making this possible.
Northcentral’s broadband affiliate, Northcentral Connect, plans to begin pre-registration for services to these areas in late summer with service being delivered in October 2020.
North East Mississippi Electric Power Association was awarded a grant of $3,706,380, which will be matched by North East, for a total project amount of about $7.4 million.
“We are certainly excited about receiving this grant,” said North East CEO Keith Hayward. “Ultimately, this makes it possible to add customers into our first construction phase instead of waiting for the second phase.”
North East already has 178 active broadband customers. It offers three options ignite service (100 Mbps up/down); blaze service (1 Gig up/down); and voice service. Go to nesparc.com for more information.
The grant program was established in July by the Mississippi Legislature after the state received federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act funding.
It will enable awardees to begin construction in some of Mississippi’s most isolated and disconnected areas. Areas that received funding are certain census blocks not covered with broadband service as defined by the FCC (25mbps download, 3 mbps upload). To be awarded the grant, the electric cooperatives must first agree to 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.
“These grant announcements say to rural Mississippians that help is on the way,” said Brandon Presley, public service commissioner for the Northern District. “By targeting these grants to only be spent in areas that lack service, we know that these dollars will go to many places that need internet service most. This is a very forward thinking approach by the Legislature and I am very appreciative for their leadership. Lt. Governor Hosemann, Speaker Gunn, Sen. Joel Carter and Rep. Scott Bounds were champions of this issue from the very start. The lack of broadband access is a major problem that was here before COVID-19, but it has been magnified by the pandemic. We cannot turn our heads and hope this problem gets fixed, it will take bold action like the grant program established by the Legislature. Rural Mississippians deserve the same quality of internet service as those living in downtown Jackson. This grant program is a great start toward that goal.”
These 15 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.