Tombigbee Electric Power Association’s (Tombigbee EPA) announcement that it will form an affiliate company to offer high-speed internet/broadband service is a significant step in addressing a deficiency throughout Northeast Mississippi in numerous areas from education to health care to economic development.

TEPA is among the first of the electric power providers in the state, including Tallahatchie Valley Electric Power Association, to take this leap, as reported by Daily Journal staff writer Danny McArthur.

Northern District Public Service Commissioner Brandon Presley, who was unwavering in his work this legislative session to see the “Mississippi Broadband Enabling Act” passed and signed into law, pushed the rural cooperatives to evaluate whatever they would need to do to provide this service to their members.

“This step is going to bring our community together with the same spirit we saw in the 1930s when our community came together to bring electricity to our rural farms and parts of the state, and this job is not done,” Presley said. 

The unanimous decision by TEPA’s board to provide a fiber-to-the-home network to serve all 43,950 of the co-op members was made so those living in local communities would have access to the same services as those in urban areas, according to TEPA General Manager Bill Long.

The Broadband Act 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 pool 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.

“In the last two days, we have begun bridging the digital divide in Mississippi for rural people. I feel as if we are standing at the same point in history as when President Franklin D. Roosevelt and the TVA brought electricity to rural North Mississippi. In the 1930s, Tombigbee and Tallahatchie Electric Power Associations brought the modern technology of that day, electricity, to the rural people who didn’t have it. In these past two days, they are embarking on doing the same for today’s technology, broadband internet service. These actions today will be a turning point in the lives of rural Mississippians and we will look back on this as the turning point in saving rural Mississippi.”

While the national rural co-operative movement, which began in Northeast Mississippi, provided electricity to rural residents, it was focused on improving their quality of life.  Rural co-operatives now are stepping up to meet the needs of the people in a fast-paced world where high-speed internet is as important now as providing electricity was in the 30s and 40s.

We are encouraged and support the efforts being made to make needed changes that will improve the quality of life in Northeast Mississippi.

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