TUPELO • A little more than two years ago, Brandon Presley began what he said would be a five-year plan to push for rural broadband access.
What has happened since then has exceeded the public service commissioner’s expectation.
As of Thursday morning, nearly 25,000 home owners statewide have fiber-to-the-home broadband, with most of those centered in Northeast Mississippi, Presley told the CREATE Foundation’s State of the Region meeting Thursday morning.
“It’s been a monumental success in less than a year,” Presley said. “In much the same spirit that Northeast Mississippi led America out of the dark in bringing electricity to rural areas, we’re doing the same with fiber-to-the-home broadband service.
“This time last year we had less than 100 people hooked up to an electric cooperative with broadband service. As of this morning we’re at 24,632, and that number is climbing by the day.”
Presley said 17 of the 25 electric cooperatives in the state are now offering broadband access, and he hopes to have all of them eventually offer it.
Presley said broadband access is a necessity for anyone who wants to stay connected with the rest of the world.
With a minimum of 100 Mbps download and upload speeds available, Presley said it’s like driving on a 12-lane-highway versus a two-lane dirt road.
“If this region is going to compete, it’s got to connect,” he said.
Having such access allows Pratts to connect with Paris, Booneville with Barcelona and Ripley with Rio.
Presley called it “a broadband revolution.”
“In the same way that electricity revolutionized not only business but home life in the 1930s, fiber to the home is going to revolutionize education, economic development and healthcare. Northeast Mississippi is poised to reap every one of those benefits and be on the cusp of the future.”
The state as a whole is positioned well with funding in place to expand broadband access. With an initial boost of $75 million from the state Legislature, including another $495 million is available from the federal Rural Digital Opportunity Fund, as well as another $166 million from the pandemic-inspired CARES Act.
“We’re getting close to $1 billion in investment,” Presley said. “Right now, we have the largest expansion of rural broadband geographically in America.”
Every electric cooperative except one in Northeast Mississippi is setting up to provide broadband to its customers.
Prentiss County Electric, for example, is able to provide every one of its customers the service if they want it. As of Thursday, some 5,000 customers have already connected. More co-ops will be doing that as well by the end of the year, Presley said.
“That was unheard of just two years ago, and a lot of work has gone into making that happen,” Presley said. “I want to personally thank Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann and Speaker Phillip Gunn for providing early funds into broadband expansion.”
In Northeast Mississippi alone, more than $300 million has been invested by electric cooperatives to provide broadband service.
“This has truly been an American civics class lesson in getting things done,” Presley said. “We had to get the law changed, had to pull a few teeth and get a few bruises to enable us to move us where now, the pedal is to the metal. This is an expansion we couldn’t have dreamed of. We’re so much further than where I thought we were, and I am shockingly pleased on how far ahead we were.”