HOUSTON -- Natchez Trace Electric Power Association has been awarded $3.9 million in state grant money for a broadband pilot project in the Eupora area, Natchez Trace General Manager Shawn Edmondson said last week.

The grant requires an equal amount of matching money. The EPA plans to borrow the matching funds, company officials said.

The project will involve stringing about 340 miles of line to about 2,292 eligible business and residential locations in and around Eupora in Webster County. Terms of the grant require that the project be operational by the end of the year.

The announcement came after the NTEPA Board of Directors voted Tuesday, July 28 to apply for the grant money.

“With assistance from Conexon and direction from the Mississippi Public Utility Staff, we determined that the area with the least amount of competition and therefore the most need is Eupora.

“The purpose of this pilot project is to determine if there is enough member interest, i.e. subscribers, to make a larger, system-wide broadband deployment feasible.

“We will be sending out much more information in the coming days and weeks about the pilot project. For now, I want to reassure our electric members that they will not be ignored.

“The broadband project will be installed by contractors. Therefore, our electric members will still be taken care of by our electric employees,” Edmondson said.

Northern District Public Service Commissioner Brandon Presley announced last Tuesday, July 28, that Natchez Trace EPA was among 13 North Mississippi electric cooperatives that have received $65 million in funding from the Mississippi Electric Cooperatives Broadband COVID-19 grant program established in July by the Mississippi Legislature to increase expansion of high-speed internet service to areas which lack service.

There are 15 grantees in all; the other two (Coastal Electric and Dixie) are outside Presley’s district.

The grant program lets awardees begin construction in some of Mississippi’s most isolated and disconnected areas. Areas that received funding are certain census blocks not covered with broadband service as defined by the FCC (25mbps download, 3 mbps upload), Commissioner Presley said.

“To be awarded the grant, the electric cooperatives must first agree to spend the monies in areas that lack service, match every dollar of grant funds with private funds and provide symmetrical speeds of 100 mbps upload and download to locations in the area. The portion of each project funded by the grant program must be operational by December 30th,” according to the commissioner.

“These grant announcements say to rural Mississippians that help is on the way. By targeting these grants to only be spent in areas that lack service, we know that these dollars will go to many places that need Internet service most”, the commissioner said.

In addition to Natchez Trace, the following other North Mississippi electric cooperatives received grant funds:

--Alcorn County Electric Power Association

--Four County Electric Power Association

--Tombigbee Electric Power Association

--Northcentral Electric Power Association

--Tallahatchie Valley Electric Power Association

--Delta Electric Power Association

--East Mississippi Electric Power Association

--Prentiss County Electric Power Association

--Tippah Electric Power Association

--North East Mississippi Electric Power Association

--Monroe County Electric Power Association

--Tishomingo County Electric Power Association

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