Prentiss County Electric to offer broadband service

PCEPA Manager Ronnie Rowland said he expects the service to be available to the first customers sometime after the first of next year, with service available to all its members within about two years.

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BALDWYN – Rural residents of Lee and Prentiss counties can celebrate – broadband service is on its way. 

Just temper that celebration with the knowledge it’s going to take some time – up to two years – to get service to everyone.

Prentiss County Electric Power Association’s (PCEPA) board voted Wednesday to become the third rural electric cooperative in North Mississippi to announce since last week its plans to roll out broadband fiber Internet service to its members. On Saturday, Tombigbee Electric Power Association announced its plans to roll out the service to its more than 40,000 members in both Lee and Itawamba counties. Tallahatchie Valley EPA in Batesville was the first to announce on Thursday.

Prices for service have not yet been settled, but residential customers can expect rates to range around $50 for 100 Mb speeds to around $80 for 1 Gig speeds. Business customer rates will be a little higher, though how much higher is not yet known.

Ronny Rowland, PCEPA Manager, said some materials have already been ordered and designs are ready to get the ball rolling. The organization will need to select a contractor for the work. If everything goes smoothly, the first customers could begin to see service options as soon as the first of next year, with coverage available throughout the PCEPA service area within two years.

“We should be able to have the system totally complete two years from now, but it’s going to take a few more weeks and months to get the contractor and materials,” Rowland said. “We’re working on the design now and it takes time to get the engineering work done. Then you start working on the smaller parts, heading into the communities and then into houses. We think we might be able to begin serving the first customers sometime maybe around the first of the year. That’s kind of a target I hope we can meet.”

Rowland said the delivery time on fiber lines is usually two to three months, but PCEPA has asked its provider to send what it could as soon as possible so as to begin construction once the contractor is selected.

“We’ll have to work for several weeks to put up the mainline fiber and then put up several small buildings to hold the equipment,” Rowland said. After that, running lines to customers will follow.

Rowland has been chairman of the MEGAPOP organization for 20 years. That board was formed to bring broadband service to Northeast Mississippi and was instrumental in getting $4 million in grant funds to aid in C-Spire running fiber optic service throughout the region. That in turn gave competition to AT&T, resulting in lower rates for customers and also helping provide “middle-mile” service throughout the area.

“If we didn’t have that middle mile we’d only have one choice, AT&T,” Rowloand said.

The Association will be working with both C-Spire and AT&T, both local fiber Internet service providers to connect the local system to the outside world, and will be connecting to service points in both Baldwyn and Booneville to help avoid service interruptions in case a line is cut somewhere in the county. 

“It’s going to be built so it’s going to be reliable,” Rowland said.

More importantly for Rowland, this is a service that PCEPA customers will own, with profits from the service going back into paying for the implementation and then, potentially, into helping offset future increases in both Internet and electricity rates. He is also very upbeat on the many positives expected from the broadband expansion.

“I just hope once we start local folks will understand this is their system,” Rowland said. “Right now broadband customers have to pay AT&T or MaxxSouth, and both are really good companies, but all the money leaves Lee and Prentiss Counties. Once this system gets paid off in 12 to 15 years, that revenue will be used to possibly lower the (broadband and even electricity) rates.”

Mississippi’s law to allow rural electric cooperatives to offer broadband Internet services restricts the cooperative from using proceeds from electricity sales to fund broadband service.

“We can’t move money from electric to broadband, but can from broadband to electric,” Rowland said. “The people in our service area will own this system once it’s paid for. It’s an investment in your future and your children’s future. It’s going to increase the value of all the property. The sales of lots can bring more money. There will be people who will be interested because they can get high-speed Internet.“It’s exciting,” Rowland said. “I’m really happy. I just can’t help but believe a person wouldn’t want to take advantage of this service.”