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Mississippi City Teams With Co-Op on New Broadband Work

City officials this week allowed an electronic cooperative in Northeast Mississippi the option to use its utility poles to provide broadband services more efficiently to some Tupelo residents.

Closeup of a pile of yellow broadband cables with blue caps.
(TNS) — City officials this week allowed an electronic cooperative in Northeast Mississippi the option to use its utility poles to provide broadband services more efficiently to some Tupelo residents.

The Tupelo City Council on Tuesday night voted to accept a pole attachment agreement between the city and Tombigbee Fiber, which will allow the organization to place attachments on city-owned utility poles for broadband services.

A small portion of city residents are customers of Tombigbee, but the organization does not offer broadband internet services citywide.

Scott Hendrix, the CEO of the Tombigbee Electric Power Association, said the agreement is primarily a way for the organization to build its existing broadband project in the city more efficiently and help with the transportation of equipment.

But the recent agreement does not mean that the electric cooperative plans to extend its broadband services out to the city at large. However, it could allow for plans to expand in the future.

"The agreement in and of itself should not be interpreted as an indication that Tombigbee Fiber has existing plans to serve nonmember customers within the city," Hendrix said.

Johnny Timmons, the director of Tupelo Water and Light, told members of the City Council that this agreement does not mean that the organization can serve customers electricity, only service broadband.

"I think this is a win-win for everybody," Timmons said.

The agreement states that the power association will pay the city $12.96 per attachment per year.

Private companies such as Comcast and AT&T already provide internet services to Tupelo residents, but those services often have a tiered plan where the companies charge different prices for different internet speeds.

Electric cooperatives are organizations that are owned by the customers themselves. Most of their profits are invested in infrastructure upgrades. Cooperatives were first born out of the New Deal era of the 1930s as a way to provide utilities to rural areas when for-profit companies would not.

The Daily Journal previously reported that the COVID-19 pandemic shed a harsh light on the plight many rural Mississippians face from having a lack of access to quality, affordable broadband. Teachers, students and workers have been forced to travel long distances to use free Wi-Fi to work, teach and learn.

The Legislature and federal government then appropriated millions of dollars to associations to invest in more broadband infrastructure.

The agreement between the association and the city comes at a time when Public Service Commissioner Brandon Presley has highlighted that a federal program currently exists to give certain individuals a $50 discount on broadband services each month — almost the entire cost of a monthly broadband bill.

© 2021 the Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal (Tupelo, Miss.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.