Area to get boost in broadband by 2023

Posted 3/3/20

Madison County and surrounding counties will receive a substantial increase in rural broadband speed under a three-year plan by MidSouth Electric Co-op, which announced Friday that it had received a $6.18 million grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture for the project.

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Area to get boost in broadband by 2023

Posted

Madison County and surrounding counties will receive a substantial increase in rural broadband speed under a three-year plan by MidSouth Electric Co-op, which announced Friday that it had received a $6.18 million grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture for the project.

The grant will allow the electric cooperative to deploy fiber optic cable across its network of utility poles across Grimes, Walker, Waller, Brazos, Madison, Montgomery, and Waller counties, according to a press release from the company.

Justin Stapleton, division manager of Member Services for Mid-South, said the rollout should take about three years and give access to 100 megabits per second (Mbps).

“The timeline is approximately 3 years for our electric distribution system to be connected with fiber optic cable, Stapleton said via e-mail. “As with most construction projects, weather plays a large role in how quickly we can make progress.

“One of the major motivations of the USDA and MidSouth is to provide the same advantage of high-speed internet to students that live in rural areas. Rural students often drive into town to use free internet at a fast food restaurant to complete schoolwork.”

The grant fell under the USDA’s Broadband ReConnect Program, created to provide more high-speed digital access to rural areas. The ReConnect Program launched in December 2018 with up to $600 million in loans and grants, then expanded on Dec. 19 to offer another $200 million.

The program came under fire on Feb. 26, when U.S. Senator Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) sent a letter from him and other senators to USDA secretary Sonny Perdue, suggesting that the agency has blocked many rural areas of the country from access to the program because they had previously received funds from the Federal Communications Commission to build out satellite-based broadband.

“USDA's current policies deny funding to service providers that wish to serve geographic areas that have previously received FCC funding for satellite service, even though USDA does not consider satellite service to be sufficient,” the letter said. “This USDA-imposed restriction - which is not required by law - prevents rural communities across the country from receiving their share of over $500 million in federal funding for high-speed broadband, which is vital to reducing the digital divide and harnessing important opportunities in telemedicine and online education, and the high­paying jobs that come with them.”

In the press release Friday, MidSouth said its project could expand rural broadband (defined as 10 Mbps downstream and 1 Mbps upstream, according to the USDA) for more than 25,000 members of the co-op.

“As technology advances, we continue working to make our distribution system smarter and more robust,” the company said in the release. “Being able to add fiber across our utility network will allow us to modernize operations and enhance our awareness about what’s happening across our system. This enhances our response times during outages and improve reliability.”

Stapleton said the fiber optic network will be able to offer more than current high-speed options.

“Satellite internet offers speeds between 10Mbps to 100Mbps but also has latency, reduced upload speeds and can lose service during inclement weather,” he said. “Our fiber internet option will offer speeds of 100Mbps, 500Mbps and 1Gbps at lower prices than satellite internet. MidSouth Fiber Internet will also give users the same upload and download speed.”

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