RIPLEY • Tippah Electric customers are one step closer to having access to broadband internet. The company starting laying fiber cables Monday, July 27, and hope to complete the project within 24 months.
"All Tippah Electric customers will have the opportunity to receive broadband from us," said TEPA General Manager Tim Smith. "If they have a meter with us, they are going to have access."
If all goes well, Smith expects to be selling broadband service to customers by mid-October.
Earlier this week, Tippah Electric received a grant for $5,225,826 from the MS Electric Cooperatives Broadband COVID-19 grant program established in July by the Mississippi Legislature to increase the expansion of high-speed internet service to areas which lack service. The grant requires cooperatives to begin construction in the most isolated and the disconnected regions first. Areas that received funding are in census blocks not covered with broadband service as defined by the FCC (25 Mbps download, 3 Mbps upload).
Smith says when installing broadband, companies typically start at the central office and work their way out to the rural areas, hooking up people along the way. The grant requires that the rural areas in the defined census blocks receive service first.
"The grant was designed to provide an internet connection to the unserved and underserved. However, there will be people who don't have good internet that, for whatever reason, are not in those census blocks defined by the FCC; but we have to go by what the grant says and serve those people in the census blocks first."
Smith stresses once the project is complete, everyone served by Tippah Electic will have access to broadband.
TEPA will be building "express routes" to the underserved areas.
"The biggest part of our system that is unserved or underserved is in Benton County. We have other areas around Dumas, some in Union County, and the eastern edge of Tippah County. And then we have pockets throughout our county."
Two express routes, one down MS 4 from Ripley toward Benton County and one down MS 370 from Falkner toward Ashland, are expected to be completed by the end of the year. Another express route, down MS 370 from Ripley toward Dumas and Union County, is scheduled to be completed in early 2021.
Some areas, such as Blue Mountain and Ashland that are served by other utility companies, will also be able to receive broadband through Tippah Electric. However, those areas will receive service after all of TEPA's customers receive access.
"New Albany Electric and Holly Springs Electric have reached out to us and asked if we would have any interest in doing broadband for their customers. Blue Mountain School has also expressed interest in fiber and high-speed internet. We are committed to doing that, but we're going to make sure that all the Tippah Electric customers are served first."
TEPA is still working on pricing for the broadband service. They will be offering two options (250 Mbps/250 Mbps and 1 Gb/1 Gb) with equal upload and download speeds per option. Voiceover phone service through a landline will also be available.
TEPA expects to have a website live within a couple of months to show customers when internet access will be available.
Smith asks for people not to get discouraged if they are not in this first phase. "We will get it out as fast as we can. It just takes a while to build a fiber network."