When Mississippi law changed in 2019, allowing electric power associations to deliver broadband services, Monroe County Electric Power Association (EPA) quickly initiated a study to determine the feasibility of offering service.
Today is a day for the history books for Monroe County Electric Power Association. General Manager Barry Rowland is pictured here attaching the first tag to a MCEPA utility pole. This marks the beginning phase of bringing rural broadband internet to our cooperative.
The initial take rate projections, however, weren’t encouraging – under 30%. Knowing that need was great in their area, General Manager Barry Rowland and his team took the additional step of asking members directly about their interest. In response to a member-wide survey, more than 4,000 responded positively, bumping a potential take rate to around 36%. What’s more, only 15% of those who were actually served with internet were satisfied with their provider.
Fast forward a year, and a more optimistic feasibility study, and Monroe County EPA, the nation’s first REA (now RUS) electric co-op, is in its first phase of an audacious fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) network build. Spanning 1,500 miles of fiber to provide access to high-speed internet and quality phone services for the co-op’s 10,800 members, the network is projected to cost appropriately $29 million and take four years to complete. Monroe County EPA broadband subsidiary, M-Pulse, expects to connect its first customers in early 2021.
Conexon initially came to the attention of Rowland through a statewide meeting of power associations. The company was already working with some associations prior to the legislation change. Rowland and the team were impressed with Partner Jonathan Chambers’ expertise in securing government funding, as well as Partner Randy Klindt’s breadth of cooperative broadband project experience, and eventually joined forces with them for the broadband build.
“From the first meeting, we immediately felt comfortable with the depth of their experience and expertise and ability to help us successfully deliver this service to our members,” Rowland said.
With a density of 8.6 meters per mile, Monroe County EPA territory is primarily residential, with little potential commercial business to help offset the network costs. As the association plans for its first phase, it is considering starting with dense areas even though there will be more competition, as well as partnering with neighboring power associations to provide continuity in fiber service.
“With only 15% of customers satisfied with their current broadband provider, we feel there is a lot of opportunity,” Rowland said.
Monroe County EPA is leveraging multiple Conexon services for the build-out including project management, network engineering and design, and contractor selection. The association will also be participating as a member of Conexon’s Rural Electric Cooperative Consortium (RECC) in the upcoming Rural Digital Opportunity Fund auction. And once subscribers are connected, Monroe County EPA will use Conexon call center services for assisting customers and resolving issues.