TUPELO • State officials on Tuesday announced that $65 million in grant money for broadband internet services will be injected into the state, with the bulk of those funds going to north Mississippi.
Former state Sen. Sally Doty, the newly appointed executive director of the Public Utilities Staff, announced that 13 electric cooperatives in north Mississippi were awarded money to provide underserved areas and customers with high speed internet.
“This is such a tremendous effort by these co-ops because the CARES Act requires that the money be expended and projects have immediate and substantial impact by the end of this year – the end of 2020 – which is really not that far away,” Doty said.
The grant program was created by the Mississippi Electric Cooperatives Broadband COVID-19 Act, which allocated $75 million in federal coronavirus relief aid that the state received to help provide high-speed internet to home that do not have access to broadband.
The bill, which was passed in early June, attracted wide bipartisan support in the Legislature, and no lawmaker from either chamber voted against the bill. The legislation automatically became law on July 9 when Republican Gov. Tate Reeves neither signed the bill into law nor vetoed the bill.
“Everyone in Mississippi doesn’t have strong positive internet access that they may need to get a good, quality education while staying at home,” Reeves said at the Tuesday press conference. “Now, there are a lot of challenges to fix this. There are a lot of challenges to distance learning than just that. But it’s a huge hurdle. It’s a big challenge, and it’s one we’re trying to fix with lightning speed.”
Nine electric cooperatives in Northeast Mississippi are receiving grant funding from the state. The electric cooperatives will be required to match every dollar they receive from the state with money of their own. The companies must use the Federal Communication Commission’s census block map to determine areas that qualify as underserved.
Brandon Presley, the public service commissioner for the northern district, told the Daily Journal that the grant program will propel rural American forward because it specifically targets customers that would often be the last helped in normal circumstances.
“This is a major step forward that we couldn’t have dreamed of six months ago, and this grant program is one of the most, I think, progressive programs in the nation,” Presley said.
Presley also said the credit for the bill becoming a reality belongs to the authors of the bill, legislative leaders and citizens who called their constituents to urge its passing.
Other companies that are not electric cooperatives could also apply to receive the remaining $10 million in the grant program. The Public Utilities Staff will announce the recipients of those funds at a later date and monitor the development of all the broadband projects.