HOUSTON -- Natchez Trace General Manager Shawn Edmondson this week outlined the next steps in the $42 million project to bring broadband service to the Natchez Trace service area.

“The first area likely to see service, if all goes as planned, would be in early March on the eastern end of our territory in Webster County, where a pilot project is now under way.

“Our goal is to have our broadband and phone service operational by March 1.

“The homes and businesses in Webster County, fed from Circuit 384, will be the first to receive broadband service from NT Spark. This circuit serves 182 E to Sapa to Clarkson.

“We’ve completed one circuit there, and we’re starting work on a second circuit. Two other circuits are in different stages of mainline fiber construction. A circuit is defined as a route of one of our major fiber feeds. We have four circuits in the Eupora Area,” Edmondson said.

The work involves installing drop lines to residences and businesses which have already filled out applications for service. About 2,300 residences and businesses could be served, but not all of those have applied for service.

On or about March 1, Highland Cabling personnel will begin scheduling appointments with those people who have applied for service. A date will be set to allow work crews to install in-home equipment for Internet and phone service. Once the in-home equipment is provisioned onsite by the technician, that residence or business will have instant access.

Providing service to Chickasaw will be close behind, perhaps sometime in May. The work will take place along Highway 15 South through Woodland and into Mantee, the general manager said.

Working that area will allow the Chickasaw system to tie into the Eupora work, to allow Eupora customers to have an alternate feed should any problems arise with their system.

“We started this week in Chickasaw County with make-ready engineering. That work includes much of the same work we’ve done in Webster County, such as making sure our poles have enough clearance to handle the fiber-optic cable,” he said.

After that comes the drop line installation, and then scheduling times to install the in-home equipment.

“Because of errors in the FCC’s maps, no grant money was available for our Calhoun County Area. We hope for enough subscribers in Webster and Chickasaw to fund broadband for our Calhoun County Service Area,” the general manager said.

The cost of providing broadband is either $59.99 monthly for a basic package providing 100 MB, or a premium package of $79.99 monthly providing one gigabyte (1,000 MB) of service.

For those who sign up, there is no installation fee, no service contract, and no line extension fee for the work in either Webster or Chickasaw. There will also be no data caps or restrictions.

There could be an extra expense, however, if a person signs up after the crew doing the installation work leaves the area.

“We’re trying to hold our costs down as much as possible, One of the ways we do that is to make sure contractors don’t have to backtrack -- return to an area they’ve already worked,” Edmondson said.

To avoid that possibility, he urged those interested in the broadband to sign up as soon as possible.

“We’re excited as a company to be able to offer this much needed service to our members, especially during the current pandemic, when Internet connectivity can be used for both educational and social distancing measures,” the general manager concluded.

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