It's safe to say SPARC, North East Mississippi Electric Power Association’s (NEMEPA) fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) internet and phone service will bring plenty of advantages.
School-aged kids won’t have to be driven miles for reliable internet to do homework. Rural community college students will have the same remote learning advantages as their nearby University of Mississippi peers. And working from home or running a home-based business will no longer be just the purview of those living in town.
Serving a territory in and around Oxford, Miss., home of “Ole Miss,” NEMEPA was exploring the idea of providing broadband to members even before the 2019 Mississippi legislative change allowing power associations to do so. In fact, the co-op’s leadership, along with that of other power associations helped write the legislation around broadband offerings.
“People are paying attention and excited about the offer. When we posted a Facebook picture of our first fiber hut, we got around 8,000 views in 24 hours. Even people who do have service options now can’t wait to change providers.”
“There was definitely a lack of good options in our area,” NEMEPA CEO/General Manager Keith Hayward recalled. “As we listened to our members, we started exploring the possibilities, and got involved in writing the legislation.”
North East Mississippi’s territory is unique in both its demographic – poor rural areas sitting adjacent to some of the country’s most affluent neighborhoods, along with numerous multi-dwelling units – and its network complexities. Some places require costly underground construction, while aerial will be the best option in others.
After reviewing the feasibility of constructing a FTTH network, the NEMEPA board voted in fall of 2019 to move forward and selected Conxeon as its broadband partner, helping with design and managing labor. In December 2019, NEMEPA membership wholeheartedly voted to move ahead.
“Sometimes it can be difficult to get a quorum of 300 to a meeting or by proxy,” Hayward said. “For this meeting, we had about 900. There was a huge interest.”
Enthusiasm has yet to wane. Construction started at the beginning of 2020 with the first customers expected to be connected in May. There are already 4,000 interested customers signed up. As areas open up for service, the association is using social media, community meetings and mailings to notify customers. The goal, Hayward says, is to have no more than a two-month window between customer commitment and connection.
In addition to phone and Internet, North East Fiber customers will have managed wi-fi service to ensure a smooth experience for customers even after install. Conexon will be managing customer calls and troubleshooting through its technical assistance center.
“We felt like Conexon was well-suited for this and that will make it a better experience for our customers,” Hayward said.