Plans discussed to improve internet access in Union County, statewide – May 18, 2023
NALGW’s Bill Mattox and Sally Doty of Broadband Expansion and Accessibility of Mississippi (BEAM) discuss plans to improve internet and broadband access in Union County and elsewhere in the state.
Bill Mattox, manager of New Albany Lights, Gas, and Water, and others are planning a $26 million project to improve internet access in our community by building a communication system, leasing excess capacity to an ISP, and modernizing the electric grid. Mattox plans for the project to be funded, without raising rates, through lease payments from Ace Fiber of Corinth MS. If there are no delays, the project should be completed in about 1.5 years. There’s also a possibility that NALGW will obtain some extra federal funding through a state administered agency, Broadband Expansion and Accessibility of Mississippi (BEAM).
BEAM’s director Sally Doty, a former three-term state senator from Brookhaven, gave a presentation about the agency’s work and future plans on Thursday evening at the Magnolia Room. Doty was introduced by State Rep. Sam Creekmore, who commended Doty’s accomplishments as a senator, her excellent standing in Jackson, and her efforts to expand high-speed internet access to underserved areas of the state.
In 2020, Mississippi received $75 million in CARES Act money to expand access to high-speed internet in the state. The BEAM office was set up last year as a state agency dedicated to this goal. According to Doty, despite having a small team, BEAM has already made progress in bringing broadband to underserved areas with high population density or cooperative areas.
Doty says BEAM is currently administering a grant of $32 million, which has helped lay the groundwork for administering future federal grants. Part of the work so far has been to develop an accurate map of unserved and underserved locations in Mississippi to facilitate the grant process. BEAM has also created rd a website, broadbandms.com, where residents from all over the state can report internet speeds to supplement data provided by ISPs.
Last September, BEAM applied for a $162 million grant from American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), administered by the Treasury Department, for broadband infrastructure. BEAM’s grant application detailed a plan to distribute these funds throughout Mississippi through a competitive grant process. The goal is to ensure high-speed internet access for all residents, primarily through fiber technology.
BEAM has also applied for funding from the federal Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment (BEAD) program. BEAD was set up through President Biden’s Infrastructure and Jobs Act and will be distributing $43 billion in federal funds to improve broadband access all over the country.
BEAD’s grant award to Mississippi and other states will be announced June 30. Doty hopes that Mississippi will receive about $1 billion from this program. In December, her office will then have to submit a 5-year plan. If this is approved, BEAD will release about 20% of the total grant award.
In addition to building out broadband infrastructure, BEAM also plans to administer a grant (hopefully around $15 – 16 million) to improve Mississippians’ digital skills and access. Doty says this will be done in part by strengthening existing programs in libraries and community organizations.
By Kenny Stancil
You can view the full video of the meeting (~27 minutes) from Kenny S Studio by clicking here.
Related story: Further details about NALGW plans to install high-speed internet in Union County.
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