Dixie Electric could begin offering broadband internet service to parts of Jones County as early as December, company officials told the Board of Supervisors at Tuesday’s meeting in Ellisville.
The electric co-op’s annual board meeting is Oct. 24, Jeremy McAndrew of Dixie Electric told supervisors.
“We’re just waiting to get the OK to proceed,” he said. “Our expectation is to be be serving broadband internet in December. After that, we’ll be coming to supervisors to get a franchise group.”
Board of Supervisors President Johnny Burnett said more access to broadband in Jones County would be a good thing, and “it’s especially needed for education purposes.”
General Manager Randy Smith of Dixie Electric told Burnett that the new service would “create 17 to 20 new jobs” and about double that during the construction of the infrastructure to provide it. The aerial high-speed fiber optic network, known as DE Fastlink, will be constructed on existing infrastructure in the form of overhead lines.
Initially, the service will be available down Highway 15 South in Ovett and the Good Hope Community, down Highway 29 through parts of Perry County and east on Highway 42 into a portion of Wayne County. The project, which is being partially funded with federal grant money, will stretch more than 206 miles past 1,400 homes and small businesses, with an average of 6.8 homes per mile of line.
The estimated cost of the project will be $7.4 million, McAndrew said. The money is part of $65 million the state legislature provided to 15 electric cooperatives in the state from federal CARES stimulus funds. The grants are being used to help “unserved and under-served rural areas” to help with distance-learning, telemedicine and work-at-home possibilities that have been ordered during the shutdown to combat the spread of COVID-19.
Dixie Electric had already done feasibility studies, and providing broadband “proved feasible,” McAndrew said. Network speeds of 100 to 1,000 megabits per second will be available and company officials are studying a “pricing strategy” for managed wi-fi service at “reasonable rates that recovers costs plus a reasonable rate of return.”
The area that is getting the first opportunity to use DE Fastlink was chosen, in part, because of its lack of other internet alternatives, McAndrew said, because that was one of the conditions of the grant. “They didn’t want us competing with other providers.”
Dixie Electric has 35,000 customers, and the company hopes to get another federal grant and eventually “launch high-speed internet on the entire system,” Smith said.