Thanks to passage in the 2019 Mississippi State Legislature of a bill allowing state electric cooperatives to begin offering broadband internet service, a number of those cooperatives have come out announcing their plans to get fiber to the home.
Northcentral Electric Power Association CEO Kevin Doddridge says his cooperative also plans to make it available to its members at some point. But Doddridge believes some of the recent announcements may be a bit premature.
Speaking Wednesday, Aug. 14 to the Olive Branch Chamber of Commerce monthly luncheon at the Whispering Woods Hotel and Conference Center, Doddridge talked about what Northcentral is doing to move toward offering broadband high-speed internet to its members.
“The question now is, ‘Will Northcentral look to be an internet service provider?’” said Doddridge. “We are looking at that, studying it profusely, but we have to make sure that it doesn’t threaten our ratepayers. We cannot do that and we’re committed to that.”
The Northcentral CEO also said it was his belief that the internet from the other cooperatives may still be something that won’t occur in the near future.
“A lot of companies that made this announcement are doing it so their membership will know something’s going on, but they’re still looking at a several year buildout,” Doddridge warned. “When Northcentral makes an announcement, we will have a product, we will have pricing and we’ll have a certain amount of availability right away.”
Among the cooperatives that have recently plans for broadband service are Prentiss County Electric Power Association, Tallahatchie Valley EPA and the Tombigbee EPA. Alcorn County EPA members have also taken a vote to allow that cooperative to change its charter and allow for it to provide its members service.
In the Prentiss County EPA announcement, Public Service Commissioner Brandon Presley was quoted as saying the cooperative was making progress by having internet fiber already ordered.
Doddridge said his cooperative has been installing fiber over the last few years.
“Most of those cooperatives are doing their initial approach to form the affiliate and start installing fiber,” Doddridge said. “Northcentral has been installing fiber for utility needs for three years now. We’ve got 75 miles up and the plan is to continue installing fiber.”
However, Doddridge warned Northcentral members should not expect to see something more substantial for the next several months and he has a good reason for that.
“We are also committed to make sure that we have a plan for universal coverage which will be very difficult,” Doddridge explained. “We don’t want to offer an internet service provider company until we can provide a service. We hope to have some information forthcoming in the next 6-9 months. Until then, it’ll be kind of a controlled communication, but we are working in that area.”
The state legislature quickly passed in the early days of the 2019 session the Mississippi Broadband Enabling Act, or House Bill 366. It allows state cooperatives that before were prevented from offering high speed internet to its customers the ability to do so. The cooperatives are required to not provide service directly, but may do so through a provider affiliate the cooperative sets up. The bill was signed by Gov. Phil Bryant in February.
There are 25 electric cooperatives in Mississippi, serving about 1.8 million members, as they are called. Northcentral is a distributor of Tennessee Valley Authority electricity and serves eastern DeSoto County, western Marshall County, and small areas in Tate and Lafayette counties.
Bob Bakken is Managing Editor of the DeSoto Times-Tribune.