Fiber Brings Internet Access to Rural Areas of George and Greene Counties

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GEORGE COUNTY, Miss. (WKRG) – Fiber optic internet is being installed in rural areas of George and Greene counties. It brings reliable Internet access to select homes and businesses for the first time.

A Perry County home was the first subscriber to be connected through SR Connect, Singing River Electric Cooperative’s internet grant, last December. Since then, the company has fully transitioned to the first phase. It includes subscribers from the Brewer community of Greene County and part of the Agricola community of George County.

Fiber lines run with company power lines, above or below ground, from substations and company feeders. The Barton Agricola substation, whose connection began this week, could connect 1,300 subscribers.

“Right now we have board approval to build Phases 1 and 2. I think our ultimate goal would be to bring it to most, if not all, of our Singing River Electric members, but right now we’re getting approval on a phase-by-phase basis,” said public relations manager Lorri Freeman.

Phase 2 could begin as early as this fall. The company won’t announce the phase until teams are ready to connect homes in specific areas of the expansion. SR Electric customers will receive a postcard in the mail if they are eligible to register for the free fiber installation.

Only the co-op’s electric customers are included in the currently planned phases, but board members could vote to expand the facility in the future.

Fewer than 26% of Greene County homes currently have broadband access with speeds of at least 25 megabits per second, the 5th-lowest accessibility rate in the state, according to Federal Communications Commission data. .

The Mississippi Broadband Expansion and Accessibility office is expected to open later this year. Governor Tate Reeves signed a bill in April creating it to distribute $162 million in US federal Rescue Plan Act money to internet service providers. The state could also receive $500 billion to $1.1 billion for broadband expansion through the infrastructure bill passed by Congress late last year.

Installing fiber is a major upgrade for some small business owners to stay operational and competitive. South Mississippi Light Aircraft in the community of Agricola was one of the first customers in the area to receive service earlier this year.

“We do engine training and everyone has to have their laptop and use it. We had hotspots that we couldn’t always use, now we can hook up 10-15 people with no problem,” said owner Ronnie Smith.

A reliable internet helps the store perform common small business tasks, such as sending customer invoices and placing orders, in addition to improving their in-flight software updates.

“It would dab a lot. It would take all night and into the next day to download, now it takes about five minutes,” Smith said.

SR Connect invites anyone interested in receiving fiber optic Internet to indicate so on the company’s website, whether or not they are a current Singing River Electric customer. Engineers consider popular locations as a factor in deciding where to expand service.

“There are people who try to call because their neighbor has internet with a current provider and they say ‘sorry, we don’t have the capacity to take you right now’. With our system, you won’t encounter that,” said project engineer Brandon Welford. “You won’t miss the boat. As long as fiber internet is available in your area, we’ll be able to serve you.”

AT&T also recently made fiber available to 400 customers in the Lucedale area, a company spokesperson said. 3,000 homes in George County are subscribed or eligible for access. The company is offering discounted rates to eligible households.

The Affordable Connectivity Program also offers a $30/month rebate to households who are already receiving other federal assistance, including free or reduced-price school meals or a federal Pell Grant, or whose income is $200 or less. % of federal poverty guidelines.

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