4-County Electric Power Association unveiled its rollout plan Thursday for FASTnet, a fiber broadband service, for parts of rural Clay, Choctaw, Lowndes, Monroe, Noxubee and Oktibbeha counties.
4-County oversees a nine-county coverage area, including rural portions of Lowndes, Oktibbeha, Clay and Noxubee counties. CEO and General Manager Brian Clark said the company is proficient with electrical services, but with internal training is now equipped for fiber internet as well.
“This is an initial strategy buildout plan…” Clark said. “We’re going to build a ring around our system for communications and expand on that.”
Clark said this four-phase fiber buildout will take about three years to complete. Phase one, which will begin this spring, includes Lone Oak, Montpelier, Maben, Brooksville and Adaton. Phase two, scheduled to begin in early 2022, includes Oktoc, Golden Triangle, Lake Lowndes, Magbee and Stinson Creek.
The co-op began construction for the fiber buildout in October 2020 with a pilot program using $6 million from the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES). This funding allowed 4-County to springboard the project into action, Clark said, granting parts of west Clay, northeast Choctaw and north Noxubee counties with 500 miles of fiber.
After the initial pilot program is completed, 4-County’s long-term plan will be underway with four phases of construction. Clark said phase four should end around early 2024, and there will be 5,400 total miles of fiber across the entire system after the completion of the project.
The co-op also secured $35 million from the Federal Communications Commission through the Rural Development Opportunity Fund in late 2020 to receive in equal increments over 10 years.
FASTnet offers three different packages for members — FAST 200 for $55, FAST 500 FOR $65 or FAST GIG for $80 — all including different benefits. Members will also receive $5 off a month if they sign up for bank draft and e-bill.
Internet speeds range from 200 megabits per second for the least expensive package to 1 gigabit per second for the most expensive.
Clark said as of Thursday, 306 members were signed up for FASTnet with half of those members enrolling just the past month. He said this service will give internet access to people who otherwise would not have it.
“A lot of people didn’t even have an option,” Clark said. “I think it’s very impressive to hear from those people, how happy they are with it.”
4-County Electric Power Association spokesperson Brad Barr said the COVID-19 pandemic propelled this plan forward. Because of telemedicine, virtual learning and remote working, the company knew it was essential to provide a service for people needing internet access.
“It helps young kids with their school work, and older people that are working from home, and it just helps from a recreational standpoint,” Barr said.
Clark said he believes FASTnet will keep people in the rural regions of the counties rather than moving into more urban areas.
“We’re hoping with this there will be a resurge of people staying in the country, staying in the community,” Clark said.
“They’ll have connectivity with the rest of the world. They won’t have to move closer to town or in town to have that same level of service that people in town have.”
4-County’s fiber internet rollout plan
■ Lone Oak: Spring 2021
■ Montpelier: Late Spring 2021
■ Maben: Summer 2021
■ Brooksville: Fall 2021
■ Adaton: Late Fall 2021
■ Oktoc: Early 2022
■ Golden Triangle: Summer 2022
■ Lake Lowndes: Fall 2022
■ Magbee: Fall 2022
■ Stinson Creek: Late 2022
■ Waverly: Early 2023
■ Lakeside: Spring 2023
■ Prairie: Spring 2023
■ South Macon: Fall 2023
■ Sturgis: Fall 2023
■ Ackerman: Late 2023
■ Weir: Early 2024