Pilot Project Will Serve an Area in Need
By JACK CRISS
An exciting project for an underserved area is finally underway. David O’Bryan, General Manager of Delta Electric Power Association, a rural electric co-op headquartered in Greenwood, with other offices in Cleveland, Indianola and Winona, says the company has entered the broadband industry helping many people in need in the process.
“We had been looking at broadband for a couple of years since the Mississippi legislature gave us the authority to do so in 2019,” says O’Bryan. “But, because of our low density at the time it wasn’t feasible for us to do it. We began to look at grant money and, with the CARES Act that was passed by Congress earlier this year to provide stimulus revenue during the virus, Mississippi received $1.2 billion for COVID-19 relief. Back in March, the electric co-ops in the state were approached by the legislature about broadband due to the problems obtaining adequate internet service in rural areas and the urgent need for distance learning, telemedicine and telework.” O’Bryan says they were asked to consider submitting some pilot projects for broadband under the new grant money, $65 million specifically for rural electric co-operatives and $10 million to other providers. They submitted a project, along with fifteen other rural electric cooperatives, to the Mississippi Public Utilities staff—as mandated by the legislation—and it was approved.
“We were awarded an initial round of $4.4 million in the first round of the grant program in July,” says O’Bryan. “The $10 million that had been set aside for other providers had not been utilized and so those funds were shifted to the co-op program which allowed for a secondary application—and with that, we got an additional $500,000 that we needed to complete the project. These are matching grant funds so we will match those funds with money of our own.”
Lt. Governor Delbert Hoseman was instrumental in coming to Delta Electric and requesting their help in deploying broadband to the rural areas in need and Public Service Commissioner Brandon Presley was as well.
“Commissioner Presley has been an advocate for this effort all along,” says O’Bryan.
Under the specifics of the legislation, Delta Electric is serving areas that were determined by the Mississippi Public Utilities Staff to be unserved or underserved. Delta Electric had to choose an area within their system that had the greatest need.
“Our pilot project is in Carroll County with a small part of Grenada County included, and the Public Utilities Staff gave us a map indicating where the eligible grant areas were and we decided to locate our project in the neediest areas of our system,” says O’Bryan. “These areas were determined by the FCC not to have sufficient internet service or any service at all. We are mandated to serve those people in that area who are in desperate need of the service. And it has to be done through a subsidiary, according to the legislation.”
Consequently, Delta Electric has established a wholly-owned subsidiary called Delta Fiber, LLC doing business as DE LightSpeed—their marketing name.
“Delta Electric has begun the effort to build this fiber network and DE LightSpeed subsidiary is now offering the broadband service and the actual home installations,” says O’Bryan. “The prices are very reasonable and affordable. We’re excited to be offering this service, without a doubt. We feel confident about what we’re providing: it’s a world class fiber system going directly into the home or business and the legislation mandates a minimum speed of 100 megabits per second but we will offer speeds up to 1,000 meg or Gigabit service. It will truly be a gamechanger for these customers and will no doubt improve the quality of their lives.
“We’re not cutting any corners in this service,” continues O’Bryan. “It will be outstanding for these folks in desperate need of this service. All of our customers will also be provided with a free mobile app that they can download to manage their own wi-fi on their personal mobile device—it’s incredibly convenient. The customers will also have 24/7 s support for any technical problems they might have. We also hope to expand this service to other areas in the near future,” adds O’Bryan.
For more information, go to DELightSpeed.coop.