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 Broadband expansion in Mississippi continues with $70.9 million in grants

In the latest push to expand broadband access in Mississippi, internet service providers across the state will receive $70.9 million in grants for infrastructure projects.

This first round of grants is expected to expand access to 26,500 homes across 19 counties. More grants will be announced throughout the summer and into the fall. 

“BEAM is working to reach the most homes possible as quickly as possible,” Sally Doty, director of Broadband Expansion and Accessibility of Mississippi, said in an email. “With this first round of funding reaching 26,500 (homes), I would estimate that the total reach of the Capital Projects Fund will be 35,000 – 40,000 homes.”

The money is part of the $152 million in Mississippi Capital Projects Funds awarded to the state by the U.S. Department of the Treasury through the American Rescue Plan Act, signed into law in 2021.

Since BEAM was established in 2022, it has received a windfall of federal dollars aimed at increasing access to broadband internet service in Mississippi, which consistently ranks among the last nationwide for broadband availability, infrastructure and subscription rate. 

Broadband, or high-speed internet connection, is the modern standard for internet service. Its availability enables individuals to get the most out of the internet. According to the Federal Communications Commission, broadband service is defined as internet connection with at least 100 Mbps – megabits per second –  download speed and 20 Mbps upload speed. 

Uplink Internet, one of the grant recipients, has been providing internet access to people in the rural Mississippi Delta for more than a decade. What began as a group of farmers attempting to bring internet access to their homes in the country blossomed into a business after it became clear the demand was there. 

“These grants are really helping us meet the needs of people who have been requesting it (internet service) for a long time,” Scott Litwiller, chief operating officer of Uplink, said.“It’s very gratifying to be able to get these rural communities the internet they’ve been wanting for a long time.”

Litwiller said that demand skyrocketed during the pandemic, which is when Uplink decided to take the leap and apply for the grants. Most of Uplink’s clients are people who have not had internet access before or were dissatisfied with their current service. Nationwide, the pandemic brought into focus how essential broadband internet access was as everything, from work to school, shifted online. 

“It does a lot for people — access to the digital economy, being able to get goods cheaper through the internet, and being able to work from home,” he said. “We have a lot of single parent families that have a hard time working a job and providing childcare. With being a parent, having the ability to work from home anywhere in the world is helpful.” 

Many use high speed internet service to take advantage of online degree programs. 

“I talked to a customer the other day who got her bachelor’s degree from her house. She wouldn’t have been able to do that if she had to go to a physical classroom because she’s at a stage in her life where she can’t quit work and go back to school,” he said. “My wife got two nursing degrees from home using the internet. It does impact people in ways you don’t even think of. It’s a very powerful tool.”

Uplink currently serves Coahoma and parts of Bolivar counties in the Mississippi Delta, and is expanding service into Tunica and Quitman counties. 

BEAM received over $550 million in applications for the $152 million of funding. According to Doty, a rubric was used to determine which projects would receive the funding. 

Sally Doty
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Sally Doty Credit: Rogelio V. Solis, AP

“A scoring rubric was used that was made available to all applicants prior to opening of the application portal,” Doty said. “Scoring took into consideration the number of locations to be served, matching funds to be provided, cost per passing, and all federal and state requirements.”

Other factors considered in the merit review process included affordability and the ability to complete the project by the end of the year in 2026 — the point when the Treasury Department stipulates that all funds are to be spent. 

In the Mississippi Delta, where concerns were raised that BEAM was not doing enough to meet the area’s needs, projects are underway. 

“There are many providers in the Delta who are actively building out using private funding and also through current grant funding. Delta Electric’s broadband subsidiary DE Lightspeed is actively building,” Doty said. 

“USDA and the FCC have provided funding to Uplink, Arriva, Tech Info, Belzoni Cable, Franklin Telephone, and other Delta providers. The upcoming BEAD funding will fill in the gaps for coverage in the Delta through grants to many of those same providers,” she said, referring to the Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment program.

Of the most recent grants announced, the Mississippi Delta counties of Coahoma, DeSoto, Sunflower, Quitman and Tunica will be receiving service. In Tunica County, broadband expansion is being used to address health and safety concerns that the BEAM office was made aware of during a community engagement event. 

“There had been a recent incident where they could not call for an ambulance when needed,” Doty said. “BEAM left with an understanding of the seriousness of the situation. Within six months we were able to announce reprogramming of some grant funding to reach this area.”
BEAM recently completed projects associated with money received through the CARES Act, and is in the process of accessing $1.2 billion from the Broadband Equity Access and Deployment program. Other major funding in recent years includes $32.7 million from the Broadband Infrastructure program and $10.7 million for the state’s Digital Skills and Accessibility Program, which will be used to increase digital skills in Mississippi.

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