Some 231,000 rural locations Mississippi could dip into a $20 billion pot for broadband access.

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai announced this week initial estimates of how many homes and businesses in each state could benefit from Phase I of the $20.4 billion Rural Digital Opportunity Fund.

A total of about 6 million rural homes and businesses could be eligible for bidding in an auction slated for later this year to receive funding for high-speed broadband. This state-by-state list is for Phase I funding, which would target a total of $16 billion to census blocks with no broadband service at all meeting the Commission’s minimum speed standards. The remainder of the funding would be disbursed during Phase II. As recently announced, the FCC will vote Jan. 30 on launching the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund.

“The digital divide affects many people in many rural communities,” Pai said. “I’ve said that the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund would be our boldest step yet to bridge this divide, and today we get a glimpse of the broad impact this investment in rural America would have across the country. Our staff’s initial estimate shows that in 25 states there would be more than 100,000 locations that would be eligible for Phase I of the Fund, and the benefits would be felt from the Pacific Coast to the Great Plains, and from Appalachia to the Gulf Coast. The Rural Digital Opportunity Fund is critical to bridging the digital divide. I hope that my colleagues will join me in voting for it on Jan. 30.”

Mississippi, according to the estimates, has the nation’s sixth-most locations lacking broadband access, and the second-most in the Deep South.

California nationwide has the most locations with 421,000, followed by Texas 381,000.

Mississippi’s neighboring states have a relatively high number as well: Alabama (211,000), Arkansas (222,000), Louisiana (188,000) and Tennessee (182,000).

The Rural Digital Opportunity Fund would allocate $20.4 billion through a reverse-auction format to connect millions of rural homes and small businesses to high-speed broadband networks. The Fund would target areas that lack access to 25/3 Mbps broadband services in two stages. During Phase I, the FCC would target $16 billion to areas that are wholly unserved by such broadband (where there is no 25/3 Mbps service at all). For Phase II, the FCC would use its new granular broadband mapping approach, called the Digital Opportunity Data Collection, to target unserved households in areas that are partially served by such broadband (areas where some households have access to 25/3 Mbps service but others do not). Phase II would also include areas that do not receive winning bids in Phase I.

Several Mississippi rural electric cooperatives in recent months have voted to either study or roll out initiatives to provide broadband access to its customers.

The Mississippi Broadband Act passed last year by the state legislature allows electric power providers financial flexibilities like offering internet to customers outside of their electric service territories, allowing them to provide services in higher-population areas in order to fund the cost of expanding to more remote locations, teaming up and pooling their resources to lower costs, as well as federal grant opportunities to help cover some of the expenses. In Hamilton, Ala., the cooperative there, which served a model in studies presented to the legislature, has been able to provide rural customers upload and download speeds of 100 MB/second for less than $50 a month.

Brandon Presley, Mississippi’s Northern District Public Service Commissioner, has championed the rural broadband cause, and has estimated that $500 million to $700 million may be available for Mississippi through the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund.

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