Mississippians served by electric cooperatives have had plenty to celebrate since the passage of the Mississippi Broadband Enabling Act last year. The bill, which eased the way for cooperatives to provide Internet access, has already had a positive affect by inspiring several projects around the state. Recently, Northcentral Electric Cooperative announced that they're creating an affiliate to provide high-quality Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) Internet access to members.
Northcentral Adding Northcentral Connect
The cooperative announced in February that they would be forming Northcentral Connect, their new affiliate that would be the entity to offer broadband access to members. In the announcement, CEO and General Manager Kevin Doddridge said, "We are excited to see our members’ interest in fiber connectivity. We have conducted several interest and feasibility studies that have led us in this direction.” The co-op hopes to begin rolling out service in the first phase this summer.
Northcentral, which serves an area near the Tennessee border, provides electric service to more than 32,000 premises, including almost 25,000 households. They've operated since 1950 in eastern DeSoto County, western Marshall County, and in Tate and Lafayette Counties.
Last summer, Doddridge noted that the cooperative was examining the possibility of providing broadband and that, because they had already been installing fiber optic cabling between substations, they had a jump on any possible venture into broadband service. At the time, however, he wanted to be clear that Northcentral would only move forward if offering the service made sense financially and to be able to provide connectivity to their entire service area:
“We are also committed to make sure that we have a plan for universal coverage which will be very difficult,” Doddridge explained. “We don’t want to offer an internet service provider company until we can provide a service. We hope to have some information forthcoming in the next 6-9 months. Until then, it’ll be kind of a controlled communication, but we are working in that area.”
Fast forward six months to February 2020 and potential concerns appear to have been resolved. In late February, the cooperative announced an updated logo and a new name. Before the switch to Northcentral Electric Cooperative, they had operated as Northcentral Electric Power Association. Next, they let the public know that they would be establishing Northcentral Connect as the entity to provide broadband access, first to members and then possibly to others in nearby regions.
From the announcement on the new service:
“The possibilities of electricity went beyond just light bulbs when Northcentral started in 1950. Now, with services like telemedicine, online education, and even running operations on a farm, we’re hoping to show our members the endless possibilities of high-speed internet connections.”
Smart State Policy Improvements
Like other Mississippi cooperatives, including the North East Mississippi Electric Power Association and Tallahatchie Valley Electric Power Association, to expend and offer broadband rests with the bipartisan passage of last year's Mississippi Broadband Enabling Act, or HB 366. The law, which explicitly authorizes electric cooperatives to offer Internet access, has increased availability in rural communities to fast, affordable, reliable connectivity where only slow DSL, or unreliable satellite Internet service has been the norm.
Read more about how rural cooperatives are changing the Internet access landscape in rural America in the latest version of our report, Cooperatives Fiberize Rural America: A Trusted Model for the Internet Era.
Image of the DeSoto County Courthouse by Thomas R Machnitzki / CC BY-SA