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HOUSTON • Shawn Edmondson, the General Manager for the Natchez Trace Electric Power Association spoke to the Exchange Club on Friday, March 13. While addressing the club, he offered an update on the broadband project that the EPA has undertaken.

I just want to say that this is a topic that your Natchez Trace Board has been very interested in since before the legislation was ever passed,” he opened with.

Edmondson talked about the need for such a service in this area, especially in light of the recent revelation that many area schools and businesses are going to a work-from-home format amid the current outbreak.

He talked about the survey that they sent out to their membership, gauging the response to broadband being offered by the EPA. They sent out approximately 12,000 surveys, and so far, they have received 2,661. Of those, 1,500 are interested in the service and 1,100 are against it for whatever reason.

The EPA will need 5,500 subscribers to the service to break-even according to Edmondson. This does not mean that they will not proceed is they do not have 5,500 surveys, they just need to be close.

According to Edmondson, they are willing to take a leap of faith as long as they are comfortable that there will be enough to ultimately make the project a success.

He also addressed the controversial last question on the survey that asked if the membership would be willing to pay an elevated electric rate to pay for the service’s costs if there were not enough subscribers. He said this was not meant to be controversial, rather, it was to offer a realistic look at what could be the case if not enough people subscribe.

The project began to take off when the legislation was passed allowing grant money for rural EPA’s to offer high-speed internet for their memberships. There is $20 million to be paid out across the country for them to do so. According to him, there will be $16 million paid out in the first phase, then a few years later, the other $4 million will be paid out to those who did not get in the first time.

Edmondson said that the numbers are not final, but that they are estimated to get 10% of the total costs over five years. The total costs for Natchez Trace to implement the service will be $34 million. This includes installation and personnel. He said that to start the project, they would have to take out a loan to pay for the project, then pay it back using the grant money and subscriber payments. That is why such a large number of subscribers is needed. He also added that the EPA is not considering line extension costs at this time and that about 90% of the construction is overhead.

The members of the Exchange Club asked questions, but they all seemed to ultimately support the project.

The base package that they would offer would be 200 mbs for $60 per month.

The benefits according to Edmondson would greatly improve the local economy and bring in lots of revenue.

The board has decided to extend the date of the survey to May 1, and they are encouraging everyone who received one to submit it, so they can get a true idea of how the project would be received.

“The board needs to see a good bit of interest from the membership before they will put their name on the line for a loan,” he said.

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