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Dixie Electric Power Association was approved to receive grant funding of 3.3 million for a high-speed internet pilot project. 

The Mississippi Public Utilities Staff announced Tuesday the awarding of $65 million in grant money to electric cooperatives that will deploy fiber to provide high-speed broadband internet service to unserved and underserved areas of rural Mississippi.

The $65 million became available after the State Legislature passed Senate Bill 3046 — The Mississippi Electric Cooperatives Broadband COVID-19 Act — earlier this year. The state was awarded these funds through the federal government’s Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act funding.

Fifteen electric cooperatives, collectively, will match the grant money with $65 million to provide a total of $130 million for expanding broadband access across the state. 

Dixie Electric’s portion of the grant funding will cover approximately half of the $7.4 million pilot project to install fiber to facilitate the delivery of broadband service to one of the most unserved or underserved areas of the association’s service territory. The pilot project area includes southeastern Jones County and northwestern Perry County and is a two-phase project. 

“The grant provides funding to build fiber and provide high-speed internet service to a portion of our service area,” Dixie Electric General Manager Randy Smith said. “The pilot project provides an opportunity for us to learn this new business while meeting a very important need for our members.”

The area chosen for the pilot project was based on three criteria, Dixie Electric spokeswoman Lydia Walters said. The area had to be defined by the Federal Communications Commission as an unserved or underserved census block for high-speed internet service, the project needed to cover more than one county and the build-out for the project needs to come from the same electric substation area. 

The areas chosen for this pilot project met these criteria,” Walters said, “therefore, it met goals of the grant.”

Michael Callahan, executive vice president and CEO of the Electric Cooperatives of Mississippi, thanked Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann, Speaker of the House Philip Gunn, Sen. Joel Carter, chairman of the Senate Energy Committee and State Rep. Scott Bounds, chairman of the House Public Utilities Committee, along with Public Utilities Staff Executive Director Sally Doty and her staff “for their hard work expediting the grant process.” 

Callahan said the electric cooperatives look forward to working with the Public Utilities Staff to meet the approved deadlines for utilizing the grant money and bringing broadband service to rural parts of the state.

Dixie Electric Power Association serves 39,500 accounts with electric service in a seven-county area in south Mississippi, including Jones, Wayne, Perry, Forrest, Covington, Clarke and Jasper counties.

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