Installation of fiber broadband service in rural areas of Clay, Choctaw, Lowndes, Monroe, Noxubee and Oktibbeha counties is running ahead of schedule.
4-County Electric Power Association is currently installing broadband service in Oktibbeha County and is now starting its phase in Lowndes County. While Monroe County Electric has its broadband project broken off into seven substations, M-Pulse Fiber is heading toward substation seven, installing the fiber broadband service in East Caledonia.
Jon Turner, head of marketing and public relations at 4-County, said the electric co-op is six months ahead of schedule. 4-County’s roll-out plan projected that phase two would start construction elsewhere in the Golden Triangle this summer. That means Lake Lowndes, Magbee, and Stinson Creek could see service earlier than the projected date.
“We cannot build fast enough,” he said. “Since our pilot phase was a success, customers have been responding well to FASTnet.”
Barry Rolland, general manager for Monroe County Electric, said the response of M-Pulse Fiber in the Caledonia area has been “outstanding.”
“This is a new business venture for us,” Rolland said. “So, we appreciate all of our customers signing up.”
Monroe Power has an estimated 3,530 internet customers, which includes those in the Caledonia area. Rolland said the goal is to get 5,000 customers plus more residents in Caledonia to join M-Pulse fiber.
4-County has connected with an estimated 5,000 FASTnet customers. Its overall goal is to connect all of its 50,000-plus power customers.
“(However) 4-County would be very happy if we receive 40 percent or more of their members taking FASTnet service,” Turner said.
Both FASTnet and M-Pulse offer internet access starting at $55 per month, though 4-County’s base service is faster. Both also offer packages with speeds up to 1-gigabit per second.
Rolland said that because Monroe Electric takes on 75 customers per week, residents of Caledonia are informed of M-Pulse service in their neighborhood by receiving a door hanger from Monroe County Electric.
“This is after construction is finished, and everything is connected and ready to go,” Rolland said.
Because of the 4-County roll-out plan, if a customer requests service in an area that already has fiber the turnaround time is typically two to three weeks, Turner said.
Public Service Commissioner Brandon Presley, who has long advocated for broadband in rural areas, said the impacts in these communities are massive.
“It will help stop some of the brain drain in rural communities and give parents both the educational and economic opportunities as anyone else in the country,” Presley said.
Presley said funding for fiber broadband was already being distributed before the federal infrastructure bill passed.
The Mississippi Legislature also gave $65 million to cooperatives throughout the state to help start broadband projects, and 4-County secured more than $35 million from a Rural Development Opportunity Fund (RDOF) auction held in late 2020. County will receive the funds in equal installments over 10 years. The Monroe Journal previously reported that Monroe Electric received $8.1 million in RDOF.
“There have been several pots of money before the latest infrastructure bill,” Presley said. Before federal funding, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES) and the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund brought in $495 million to the state, the second-highest state pulling in money behind California.
Both FASTnet and M-Pulse Fiber are introducing broadband internet service and residential phone service. 4-County and M-Pulse Fiber customers can visit www.4cfastnet.com or www.mpulsefiber.com to see if their address qualifies for broadband.