State Allocates $75 Million For Broadband Expansion

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NORTH Mississippi. (WCBI)- The lack of broadband internet service is an issue that’s been plaguing the state for years.

Now, help is on the way.

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That help comes from the Mississippi Electric Co-Operative Broadband COVID-19 Act, Senate Bill 3046, which lawmakers passed earlier this week.

In particular, the help is going towards those in rural areas.

It’s a bill Northern District Public Service Commissioner Brandon Presley said he’s in favor of.

“This is the largest allocation of funds both on the state level and private dollars for broadband expansion in the history of the state,” said Presley.

Of the $1.25 billion the state received in coronavirus relief funds, $75 million is going towards the broadband expansion, but here’s the catch.

Each electric co-operative that participates has to match each dollar the state spends.

So in all, $150 million is being used to help improve internet service in rural areas all throughout the state.

“This will be a grant for construction and connection,” Presley explained. “These grants will go out not only to build the fiber backbone to get to these areas that lost service, but also everything from taking that individual service to drop into the home of each customer, so it is a full package of broadband connectivity.”

The deadline for co-ops to apply for the grant program is July 17th, and the money will be sent out at the end of the month.

Presley said the pandemic is exposing the lack of broadband service in certain parts of the state, and now he’s hoping these funds will help solve that issue.

“You’ve got folks that totally rely on satellite for internet service which is very costly, and the speeds are not all that great,” Presley described. “This grant program requires a minimum speed of 100 megabits per second upload and 100 megabits per second download, which is very fast Internet speed, it’s above the average in Mississippi.”

The northern public service commissioner said how fast each home and area receives internet service is all based upon how fast their service provider can begin work.

“Almost all of the areas that will be applied for in this grant program, under the normal course of broadband expansion would be the last people that would be hooked up simply because they are in the most rural area,” said Presley. “We are reversing that in this grant program and actually going to the people who, in a normal course of business, may have been the last house hooked up, they will actually be where we start.”

At this time Governor Tate Reeves has not signed the bill, but Presley said he expects him to do so in the coming days.