BECKER – The Mississippi Public Utilities Staff announced the awarding of $65 million in grant money to electric cooperatives July 28 that will deploy fiber to provide high-speed broadband internet service to unserved and underserved areas of rural Mississippi.

The Monroe County Electric Power Association (MCEPA) Board of Directors and management announced the same day that MCEPA will be the recipient of $3,804,101.16 from the Mississippi Electric Cooperatives Broadband COVID-19 Grant Program.

“We got 91 percent of what we applied for,” said MCEPA General Manager Barry Rowland. “This all actually happened at a great time for us, due to hard work by our employees and various contractors we will begin hanging fiber the first week in August. The criteria of the grant lined up perfectly with all of our pre-existing plans.”

MCEPA’s goal is to have 200 miles in place by the end of the year, when the funds provided by the grant must be spent.

The $65 million became available after the Mississippi Legislature passed Senate Bill 3046 – The Mississippi Electric Cooperatives Broadband COVID-19 Act – earlier this year. The money became available after the state was awarded federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act funding.

The electric cooperatives will match the grant money with $65 million to provide a total of $130 million for expanding broadband access across the state.

“We would like to thank Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann; Speaker of the House Philip Gunn; Sen. Joel Carter, chairman of the Senate Energy Committee; and State Rep. Scott Bounds, chairman of the House Public Utilities Committee. I also want to thank Public Utilities Staff Executive Director Sally Doty and her entire staff for their hard work expediting the grant process,” said Michael Callahan, executive vice president and CEO of the Electric Cooperatives of Mississippi.

Callahan also said the electric cooperatives look forward to working with the Public Utilities Staff to meet the approved deadlines for utilizing the grant money and bringing broadband service to rural parts of the state.

Monroe County Electric Power Association applied for $4,206,660. The grant money will fund high-speed internet access to the unserved and underserved of the cooperative’s service area.

“These grant funds will make a tremendous impact on our ability to begin the delivery process to the most rural parts of the state,” Callahan said.

Fifteen electric cooperatives from across Mississippi applied for the grant money.

Callahan said after the fiber work funded by the grants begins, there will be broadband internet access available to 10,000 homes by this December. Once the local grant projects are finished, there will be broadband service available to more than 35,000 homes in rural Mississippi.

There could be additional grant money available at the end of the year and electric cooperatives would have the opportunity to apply for that funding at that time.

Staff writer John Ward contributed to this story.

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