Executive Director Sally Doty announced today that the Mississippi Public Utilities Staff has awarded over $66 million in grants to fifteen electric cooperatives and four broadband providers to unserved and underserved households and businesses in rural Mississippi. The grants and matching funds represent over $150 million in investment in our rural communities. All grant monies will be expended by the end of the year. The selected awardees estimate that broadband services will potentially reach over 50,000 residents, of which over 40,000 are deemed underserved by the Federal Communication Commission.
The Federal Communication Commission outlines and maps under/non-served Census blocks. These Census blocks were used to determine whether a project was eligible. The Public Utilities Staff encouraged as much investment as possible inside the under/non-served Census blocks. The companies awarded funding will install over 5,000 miles of fiber optic cable.
“I want to commend the hard work put in by the Public Utilities Staff as well each applicant. The Staff worked diligently to review each application and we want to thank the applicants who answered every question posed by our office,” stated Director Sally Doty.
In order to further provide access, the Public Utilities Staff sought commitments from each applicant to allow for public access via “hot spots.” Staff requested “hot spots” be strategically located at no cost to any user.
In a time of heightened crisis, broadband services will be of great benefit to telemedicine, telework, students needing access to online learning as schools phase back into modified operation and to those needing adequate access to broadband to receive necessary services and work in a healthy and safe environment.
About the Mississippi Electric Cooperatives Broadband COVID-19 Act:
Funding for the Mississippi Electric Cooperatives Broadband COVID-19 Act was appropriated by the legislature as part of the CARES Act funding appropriated by Congress and signed by the president. The program provides grants to electric cooperatives and other broadband providers to expand high-speed internet access throughout the state. The Mississippi Legislature created two funding opportunities: $65 million for electric cooperatives and $10 million for other broadband providers. Each program requires providers to match grant dollars, resulting in a total of $150 million for broadband expansion through the state.
About the Mississippi Public Utilities Staff
The Public Utilities Staff was established by the Legislature in 1990. It is an agency completely separate and independent from the Public Service Commission. The Staff’s organization consists of the Executive Director, appointed by the Governor and confirmed by the Senate, and five divisions: Legal; Administrative Services; Water and Sewer; Electric, Gas and Communications; and Economics and Planning. The Public Utilities Staff, by law, represents the broad interests of the State of Mississippi by balancing the respective concerns of the residential, commercial, and industrial utility ratepayers and the state and her agencies and departments, as well as the public utilities.