Tag: "mississippi"

Posted August 20, 2020 by Katie Kienbaum

Less than two years after Mississippi lifted its ban on electric cooperative broadband networks, at least 15 of the 25 co-ops in the state have announced plans to provide Internet access to members, with more on the way.

“I would venture to say that there is a higher percentage of co-ops launching [broadband] projects in Mississippi at one time than anywhere else in the country,” said Randy Klindt, partner at Conexon, a consulting firm that is working with several co-ops in the state.

The months in between were marked by two major changes. First, in January of 2019, the Mississippi legislature passed a law that enabled co-ops to create broadband subsidiaries to connect their members. Then a year later, the pandemic hit, highlighting the urgent need for better connectivity and turning the steady stream of cooperative interest in broadband into a veritable flood.

In response to the global health crisis, the state leveraged federal CARES Act money to establish a grant program to fund electric co-op broadband deployment. Through the program, Mississippi awarded $65 million to 15 electric cooperatives to build high-quality Fiber-to-the-Home networks in some of the state’s most disconnected and rural communities, dramatically ramping up the pace of the co-ops’ broadband projects.

“When we started two years ago, I would’ve guessed that you would have had maybe five systems out of 25 in the state that would be to the level where we are now,” Coast Electric Power Association (EPA) President and CEO Ron Barnes said in an interview. “Most people would tell you they were surprised by the speed,” he added.

Opening the Floodgates

Internet access has been lagging in rural Mississippi for years. The state came in at 42 in BroadbandNow’s most recent connectivity rankings. According to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), at least 35% of rural Mississippians do not have access to the Internet at broadband speeds.

In 2018, the state co-op association, Electric Cooperatives of Mississippi, brought its 25 member organizations together to gauge their interest in changing the state law so the co-ops could address their rural members' inadequate connectivity. At the time, electric co-ops in the state were prohibited from operating for any purpose other than providing...

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Posted August 18, 2020 by Ry Marcattilio-...

This week on the podcast Christopher talks with Ron Barnes, President and CEO Biloxi-based Coast Electric Power, an electric cooperative in Mississippi area, and Jon Chambers, Partner at Conexon, a consulting agency working with rural electric cooperatives to bring fiber to communities around the country. 

In January of 2019 Mississippi state law changed to allow electric cooperatives to provide broadband services to their subscribers, and Ron talks about how Coast Electric, which serves around 80,0000 residents across three counties, began its planning phase shortly thereafter. He relates how the current public health crisis moved up Coast Electric’s timeline, why the cooperative has committed in its buildout to connect the least densely populated areas of its service footprint first, and the challenges and rewards that go along with bringing high-speed Internet to Mississippi’s coast. 

Jon Chambers joins them to highlight how remarkable it has been to see Mississippi’s electric cooperatives spring into action over the last 18 months and play a leading role, and why it’s important that, already, 15 out of 25 have begun to plan their broadband plans with the injection of CARES Act funding. Together, the group discusses what these changes mean for digital equity and inclusion in Mississippi, since the new law requires the cooperatives to build to all of their customers.

We want your feedback and suggestions for the show; please e-mail us or leave a comment below.

Read the transcript for this episode.

This show is 33 minutes long and can be played on this page or via iTunes or the tool of your choice using this feed. You can listen to the interview on this page or visit the...

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Posted May 4, 2020 by Katie Kienbaum

Early last year, Mississippi changed state law to allow electric cooperatives to offer Internet access in addition to electrical service. Since then, several co-ops have announced plans to connect member-owners with fiber optic networks. But despite their new legal authority, some cooperatives are deciding against broadband projects, and their members aren’t happy.

The Daily Journal reported last week on one co-op, Pontotoc Electric Power Association (PEPA), that has chosen not to invest in broadband at this time, citing high costs. PEPA's decision faces strong opposition from some of its members as well as a commissioner from the Mississippi Public Service Commission. Critics claim that cooperative leaders did not fully consider all of the possibilities, and they take issue with the board’s choice to hold the vote during a closed meeting without issuing public notice.

“We’re not adversarial but are advocating for letting the owners get back involved,” Jackie Courson, a PEPA member in favor of broadband, told the Daily Journal.

Critics Question Private Board Vote

The PEPA board decided against moving forward with a broadband network during a private meeting on April 2. Members of the cooperative only found out about the vote four days later, during a public board meeting. In that later meeting, the board limited public discussion on every topic, including the broadband vote, to two people with five minutes each.

As justification for their decision to give the broadband project a pass, PEPA leadership cited the high cost of building fiber infrastructure — estimated at up to $48 million for the northern Mississippi co-op. “One study said it would only be financially feasible after 22 years, and then just marginally. The other two said flat out it was not economically feasible,” PEPA General Manager Chuck Howell explained to the Daily Journal.

Regardless of their members’ enthusiasm, the PEPA board argued that the potential cost put the project out of reach for the co-op. “I realize there is a demand for it. I would have loved to do it, but financially it is too much. The money wasn’t there...

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Posted April 15, 2020 by Katie Kienbaum

Two more electric cooperatives recently announced plans to build Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) networks to connect their rural members in the southeastern United States with high-quality Internet access.

The co-ops, Mississippi County Electric Cooperative (MCEC) in Arkansas and Monroe County Electric Power Association (EPA) in Mississippi, will partner with Conexon to manage network design, buildout, and implementation. Conexon has worked with dozens of rural electric cooperatives across the country to deploy broadband access to better serve their member-owners.

Rural communities in the southeast have long struggled with unreliable, unaffordable connectivity, and the current Covid-19 pandemic is further amplifying the health, education, and economic disparities that result from inequitable Internet access. But rural cooperatives, in the region and beyond, are stepping up to meet their members’ broadband needs.

Arkansas Co-op Continues Through Crisis

Big Lake Wildlife Refuge AR

Late last month in a Conexon press release, MCEC announced that it was launching a new subsidiary, MCEC Fiber, to offer its members Internet access with speeds up to one Gigabit per second symmetrical. With its new 600-mile fiber network, MCEC will join several other electric co-ops in Arkansas, including Ozarks Electric Cooperative and Craigshead Electric Cooperative Corporation, that have invested in broadband infrastructure for their communities.

MCEC President and CEO Brad Harrison said in the release:

We have long seen the need of our members and communities for reliable and fast internet service, given that it has become a necessity in many parts of life . . . This network is important for our community, and Conexon opened our eyes to the fact that not only could we provide the service, but we could offer a gold-plated solution...

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Posted March 5, 2020 by lgonzalez

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. 

logo-northcentral-coop-ms.png 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...

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Posted December 26, 2019 by Sayidali Moalim

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.

...

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Posted December 6, 2019 by Sayidali Moalim

Tombigbee Electric Power Association (TEPA) will become one of the first electric cooperatives in Mississippi to offer fast, reliable, affordable Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) connectivity to all of its 43,950 residential and commercial members. Made possible through the Mississippi Broadband Enabling Act of 2019 (HB 366), TEPA anticipates having coverage to all of its members, mostly in Lee and Itawamba counties, in four years. TEPA recently announced that Conexon will design and manage construction of the network. 

Change in Policy = Change in Possibilities

For more than 60 years, a Mississippi law had banned electric cooperatives from offering anything but electricity to their members. After pressure from the state Public Service Commission, Mississippi’s State Legislature passed HB 366 almost unanimously. The bipartisan legislation allows electric cooperatives to provide high-speed Internet access. Approximately two dozen electric cooperatives offer electric service in Mississippi. As a result, this single policy change has the potential to benefit roughly half of the state’s population.

When Governor Phil Bryant signed the bill into law in January 2019, he gave electric co-ops the lion's share of the credit for getting it through the legislature:

"This is a success for the Mississippi Legislature, for all those involved. If anyone wants to know how this bill got passed so quickly talk to the rural electric associations, because we do, and we listen to them."

Wheels in Motion

TEPA will be joining three other electric...

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Posted October 1, 2019 by lgonzalez

School districts in both urban and rural communities are taking steps to help students stay competitive as technology becomes an integral part of learning. As they develop laptop programs, school districts must also contend with the problem of unaffordable, unreliable, and slow Internet access at students’ homes. In Columbus, Mississippi, the local municipal electric utility is collaborating with the school district to bring Internet access to students after school hours.

One Missing Ingredient

Schools in Columbus, Mississippi, have been implementing technology as a standard learning component for the past several years, and have established a program to provide tablets and laptops for each high school student. As they continue to expand the program, they face a problem that other communities face when high-quality connectivity isn't widespread or affordable: many school kids in Columbus still don't have Internet access at home. In Columbus, affordability is the chief barrier. Without connectivity, one-to-one device programs can never achieve maximum success.

In October 2018, the Columbus Municipal School District (CMSD) approached Columbus Light and Water (CLW) and asked if the municipal utility could find a way to use its fiber infrastructure to extend the school’s Internet access beyond school facilities. CMSD wanted to allow students to connect past school hours. CLW general manager Todd Gale and CLW examined the possibilities and determined the project to be feasible.

logo-CLW-MS.png CLW will use its existing fiber optic infrastructure and add about two more miles of fiber to reach specific areas of the school district. When examining the addresses of students on a map, they discovered that many students live within close proximity to housing authority and public park locations. The utility has been able to identify five specific locations that will have the most impact as hotspots. Each hotspot should provide up to a one and one-half mile radius of fixed wireless access.

"We chose five locations, and those five in particular, because that's the number it would take to give students adequate coverage given...

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Posted September 23, 2019 by lgonzalez

Rural communities served by the North East Mississippi Electric Power Association (NEMEPA) should be enjoying high-quality Internet access from their co-op next year, if plans proceed as expected. The co-op Board of Directors voted on September 17th to move forward with plans to develop a Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network to their entire service area.

Thank you, Legislature

According to their press release, the 2019 change in state law to relax restrictions on electric cooperatives was the factor that encouraged NEMEPA to aggressively pursue the possibilities. With strong support from the state Public Service Commission, state lawmakers embraced the change and passed HB 366, the Mississippi Broadband Enabling Act. The bill removed decades-old language that required co-ops to use infrastructure only for delivery of electric service. Electric cooperatives will now allow be able to legally offer Internet access, a much-needed change for rural areas.

The cooperative worked with Conexon, the firm headed up by Randy Klindt and Jonathan Chambers, which has worked with numerous electric cooperatives like NEMEPA to design and develop broadband networks. 

NEMEPA has already commissioned two feasibility studies, which independently determined that the project will be viable as long as they can achieve a minimum take rate. A recent survey indicated that the need is so great in their region that members’ enthusiasm for their services will surpass the benchmark. NEMEPA plan to connect all 25,000 members within their 920-square-mile service area through a subsidiary.

In addition to gigabit connectivity, NEMEPA will upgrade their infrastructure to take advantage of smart grid capabilities to improve electrical distribution. In a letter from CEO Keith Howard posted on their Facebook page, NEMEPA states that people in the...

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Posted July 18, 2019 by Katie Kienbaum

Across the country, state legislatures are ushering in better rural connectivity by passing new laws that enable electric cooperatives to expand high-quality Internet access. In recent years, much of this legislation has authorized co-ops to deploy broadband infrastructure along existing electric easements. Other bills have removed restrictions that previously prevented electric co-ops from providing Internet access. Together, the new legislation makes it easier for electric cooperatives to bring high-speed broadband access to their members, signaling a brighter future for unconnected rural communities

Indiana in the Lead

Indiana’s state legislature was ahead of the curve when it passed SB 478, the Facilitating Internet Broadband Rural Expansion (FIBRE) Act back in 2017. The FIBRE Act permits electric cooperatives to use easements for their electric poles to also deploy broadband networks. Before the General Assembly passed this legislation, cooperatives that wanted to install communications infrastructure, such as fiber optic lines, along their electric easements would have to gain permission from each individual landowner to attach fiber to the existing poles.

Since the passage of the FIBRE Act two years ago, a number of Indiana electric cooperatives have embarked on broadband projects, including Jackson County Rural Electric Membership Corporation (REMC), South Central Indiana REMC, Orange County REMC, and Tipmont REMC. At the announcement event for South Central Indiana REMC’s fiber project, State Senator Eric Koch, author of SB 478, noted that state legislation like the FIBRE Act was enabling electric cooperatives to expand modern connectivity to rural Indiana.

State Laws Advance Co-op Broadband

A wave of support for rural cooperative broadband initiatives rippled through state...

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