Sep. 22—TUPELO — Northeast Mississippi power cooperatives from across the region gathered to celebrate a milestone in broadband expansion as well as another year of funding to facilitate more fiber optic installation.
"We are going to be one of the most connected states in the United States of America in some of the most rural areas of America. It has been amazing to watch," Northern District Public Service Commissioner Brandon Presley said Thursday. "This has been not just a top priority for me but also our co-ops."
As part of the gathering, Presley announced $9.1 million in federal broadband funding to all northeast cooperatives. The grant comes through the Federal Communications Commission's Rural Digital Opportunity Fund. The program, which began in 2019, will provide a total of $91.3 million over the next decade to the nine regional cooperatives.
Of the nine, Presley said six completed their planned expansion buildouts, and he expects the other three to complete their projects by end of next summer.
"They are way ahead of the federal guidelines and regulations," Presley said. "We've seen the largest expansion of broadband service is happening in Northeast Mississippi. We are completing county after county, geographic area after geographic area, at warp speed."
He said he's been thrilled at the speed at which the co-ops have worked to bring the project from talk to reality.
"Other carriers have had decades to serve broadband to rural communities; our co-ops have stepped up to bat, and they've got it done quickly," he said. "I think this model is a model for the entire country."
Each year, the nine co-ops will share 10% of the overall funding until the program's end in 2029. The cooperatives together provide broadband internet to 84,573 customers and expect to provide to 182,311 total customers once the cooperatives complete their expansions.
North East Mississippi Electric Power Association Manager of Engineering and Operation Randell Abel, whose corporative was allocated $1.3 million, said the association could not have accomplished the expansion without Presley and his office's involvement.
"The state of Mississippi, Brandon Presley and the whole Public Service Commission's input is what really helped the co-ops get down to the state Legislature and change the tide," he said, adding that they've got close to 9,000 customers as of Thursday. "We could not have done it without them. It is changing lives."