CARES Act funds will kickstart broadband expansion in Mississippi

A large portion of CARES Act funding will begin to close the digital divide in Mississippi.

Just a few weeks after the Mississippi Legislature passed the “COVID-19 Connectivity Act,” Staff Director of the Public Utilities Staff Sally Doty announced that 15 Mississippi co-ops will receive funding through the $65 million grant program established by the bill. Doty, a former Senator who worked on the bill, explained that each recipient must match the funds they receive — doubling the state’s investment in the effort to expand access to broadband internet.

The funds must be used to address “unserved and underserved” areas. As the global COVID-19 pandemic continues, Doty reiterated the importance of this project.

“Building out this broadband network is very much like what our co-ops did in the early 1900s to get electricity out to our rural homes. Internet is now so integrated into all areas of our life – education, medical services, telework and economic development – and with the precautions we have to take to protect ourselves from COVID-19, fast & reliable internet is a necessity and a lifeline to the outside world,” Doty said.

The CARES Act requires these projects to have an “immediate and substantial” impact by the end of the year. To that end, Doty explained that the co-ops will be installing 2,765 miles of fiber by the end of 2020 and an additional 1,980 miles in 2021. According to the Mississippi Public Service Commission, this will translate to service passing 28,447 homes and businesses by the end of 2020 and an additional 17,309 homes and businesses by the end of 2021.

“This is an exciting day toward progress in the effort to connect every Mississippi home to high-speed internet access,” PSC Chairman Dane Maxwell said. “While money is not a simple solution to our problems, this program puts us in a much better place to prepare for the future. We’re excited about this program going through and we will continue to work on partnerships and initiatives to further connect Mississippians to these services until we solve this widespread issue.”

Governor Tate Reeves applauded the allocation of the funding, saying that this “innovative” program will assist Mississippi with distance learning efforts and much more in the near future.

“This is one example of a way in which we can take this horrible tragedy called the coronavirus, and we can actually invest for the future of our state,” he said.

An additional $1.2 million was provided to service providers to use fixed wireless to provide broadband to homes. A complete breakdown of the funding can be viewed below.