Brandon Presley

By DANNY McARTHUR / Daily Journal

Another electric power association has confirmed plans to form internet broadband service, while another has made a step in that direction.

Prentiss County Electric Power Association Manager Ronny Rowland and Commissioner Brandon Presley confirmed that the Prentiss County EPA board has already voted unanimously to begin offering internet service to its members. The announcement is the third to come from northeast Mississippi: Tallahatchie Valley EPA announced its service Friday and the Tombigbee EPA announced its Saturday. Presley said Prentiss County EPA is already making progress by having internet fiber already ordered.

“They’re working with their contractors in place and already have equipment ordered,” Presley said.

He also noted that another power association, Alcorn County EPA, held a vote Tuesday at the annual meeting of the membership to see about amending their charter.

“Their members voted 904 to zero to change their charter to allow them to provide internet service,” Presley said.

The next step for the company includes the board of directors making a decision after evaluating feasibility studies, which the board must authorize if the project can go forward.

Prentiss County EPA and Presley have been working on this for almost three years, and Presley said Prentiss was one of the first companies working on this and expressing interest.

Rowland said the move to provide broadband in northeast Mississippi started when MEGAPOP was founded in 2002 to try to get more broadband service in northeast Mississippi. Rowland, chairman of the MEGAPOP board of directors, said members made multiple trips to Washington to speak with legislators and ultimately were able to partner with companies such as C-Spire to offer fiber to the home in north Mississippi. Despite this partnership, Rowland said there were still areas that were outside its network that can now be serviced by EPAs thanks to the Mississippi Electric Power Association Law and Broadband Enabling Act of 2019, which allows electric companies to offer customers internet services through a subsidiary.

“It’s almost a dream that’s about to come true that I’ve been working on for about 20 years,” Rowland said.

Rowland said Prentiss EPA had already been doing research before the law passed in anticipation that it might change, and credited several state legislators and representatives who helped support the act.

Prentiss EPA has signed a contract with an engineer in Huntsville, Alabama, to design the total system, which is estimated to take 24 months.

“What that means is that every family in our service area will have the opportunity to use our service or decide to not use our service,” Rowland said.

Rowland said the two-year time period has already started and is hopeful the more than 13,000 members see it as an investment in their future. The company plans to set up a website for people to sign up for service later. There is still some time before they start reaching out to customers, but the company believes that near the end of the year/beginning of next year, there will be enough infrastructure in place to start having a few test customers and begin advertising and connecting them. Rowland said a study shows that near the end of two years, they should be able to connectapproximately 4,100 customers.

Presley said that electric power cooperatives announcing plans to offer broadband internet service speaks to the power citizens working together can have, and said the public is realizing that in order to move into the 21st century, they have to fix the digital gap.

“It is almost unheard of to hear four announcements like this within a week, period. The proof is there that we have a severe problem in Mississippi and the people want to solve it and we have found a way to get it done,” Presley said.