Made possible through changes in Mississippi state law, cooperative Tallahatchie Valley Electric Power Association (TVEPA) has made the move to create a separate, not-for-profit, fiber Internet Service Provider (ISP). Under the trade name, Tallahatchie Valley Internet Services (TVI-Fiber), the co-op plans to offer fiber Internet service across nine northern counties in Mississippi.
Overturning Tradition for Better Rural Connectivity
Until earlier this year, a Mississppi law banned electric cooperatives from operating for any purpose other than electricity. A state Supreme Court decision from 2002 against TVEPA effectively banned electric cooperatives from expanding into other utilities. When Mississippi’s state legislature passed the Mississippi Broadband Enabling Act of 2019 (HB 3660) it opened the door for electric cooperatives to provide high-speed Internet access. Immediately after the bipartisan passage, TVEPA went straight to work on evaluating the service area and determining the feasibility of the project.
“Access to high speed Internet is vital for consumers, education, entertainment and other services in our increasingly digital world,” said Brad Robison, TVEPA chief executive officer. “High-speed Internet is imperative for advancement of business, economic development and tele-medicine. We will offer affordable, reliable broadband with lightning fast speeds and unlimited possibilities for homes and businesses to the areas served by TVEPA.”
TVEPA's service area sits west of Tupelo in northern Mississippi and the co-op serves around 27,000 customers. Batesville is the most populated community in the service area, with about 7,200 people. Most of TVEPA's service area is rural and consists of smaller communities.
Within the town of Batesville, AT&T offers DSL to residents but there's no cable Internet access provider offering residential service. Coffeville, a town of about 900 people in TVEPA's service area and much like many of the other small communities in the region has access to about 70 percent DSL coverage from AT&T. With little population density in the many other unincorporated communities in the region, Internet access varies and there's very little choice of provider.
TVEPA estimates the project will cost $60 million spread over four years in three phases. The Alabama based company, FiberRise, will lead the design, engineering, and construction of the network and anticipates completing the project in four years. The cooperative has applied for federal grants and loans, including the ReConnect Grant Program, and plans to pursue other sources of funding. TVEPA will also use the infrastructure for smart grid technology to improve their electric service. TVI-Fiber will offer service packages, equipment, complete installation, and 24/7 customer service.
“There is great interest among TVEPA members for high speed Internet,” said Robison. “TVI-Fiber will offer high-speed service in places overlooked by the for-profit service providers, as was the case with rural electrification. As a community based, local business, TVI-Fiber will offer superior service and competitive pricing.”
TVEPA will be joining three other Mississippi electric co-ops which have announced that they plan to provide broadband service: Tombigbee Electric Power Association, Prentiss County EPA, and Alcorn County EPA. Much like these electric cooperatives, an increasing number of rural cooperatives around the country are providing Internet access to members and others living in their service areas. Check out our report Cooperatives Fiberize America: A Trusted Model for the Internet Era to find out more.