KANSAS CITY, Mo., Jan. 26, 2021 - Rural fiber-optic network design and construction management leader Conexon supported seven Mississippi electric power associations (EPAs) as they successfully met CARES Act funding accelerated timing and build requirements to deliver high-speed fiber internet to thousands of rural residents in unserved or underserved areas.
Conexon clients, including Coast Electric Power Association, Delta EPA, East Mississippi EPA, Monroe County EPA, Natchez Trace EPA, North East Mississippi EPA, and Tombigbee EPA, were collectively awarded $33.8 million in CARES Act broadband funding - funding that was put in place due to the impacts of COVID - in mid-2020. Given the impact of the pandemic and the dire need for reliable broadband across rural Mississippi, the EPAs were charged with launching and deploying fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) pilot projects in an extremely compressed timeline. By the end of 2020 - less than six months after launch - the projects' nearly 400 construction crews had built more than 2,000 miles of fiber, providing high-speed internet access to nearly 14,000 homes. Projects of this scope and magnitude generally require upwards of a year to complete.
"In recent months, I have told any who are willing to listen about the broadband miracle in Mississippi," said Conexon Partner Jonathan Chambers. "The speed of deployment, the quality of the networks, the adoption by customers have all been nothing short of miraculous. The CARES Act funding jump-started a broad and growing movement by Mississippi co-ops. Thanks to the common vision by the state government and the electric co-ops, Mississippi leads the nation in rural fiber investment. We're thrilled to be a part of it."
"We continue to be impressed by the foresight of Mississippi's government and legislative leaders and their commitment to rural residents," Conexon Partner Randy Klindt added. "From the passage of the 2019 Mississippi Broadband Enabling Act to being one of the few states with CARES funding specifically earmarked for broadband service, Mississippi has made tremendous strides in closing its Digital Divide, especially in the time of the pandemic. We are extremely proud of our ongoing work there."
The funding and successful deployment of the CARES Act pilot projects for both large and smaller EPAs sets the stage for their continued broadband expansion and strongly positions them to continue building to reach all their members and communities.
"The impact of the Coronavirus and the urgent need for high bandwidth, high-speed internet for our electric consumers, along with the availability of the CARES Act grant funding, erased any misgivings we might have had about starting a broadband project given our low customer density," David O'Bryan, General Manager of Delta Electric said. "It was simply the right thing to do for our consumers when the funding became available."
"After COVID hit, our members in the unserved and underserved areas desperately needed the fiber broadband services we were rolling out in other parts of our service area," said Keith Hayward, CEO of North East Mississippi EPA. "Thanks to the Mississippi Legislature directing CARES Act funding to assist, we were able to more quickly reach these areas."
Given the accelerated schedules of the CARES Act projects, Conexon drew on its internal cooperative expertise and experience, industry partnerships and purchasing power to deploy the resources, contractors, suppliers and partners to ensure EPAs successfully launched their projects and met funding commitments.
"Conexon provided invaluable resources to our CARES Act project such as engineering design, network design and project management," O'Bryan said. "The company was able to secure the fiber materials for this project during a very challenging time given the short lead times and deadlines associated with the CARES Act funding. With the help of Conexon, we have successfully compressed a typical 12-month project into six months."
"Conexon was instrumental in getting this project off and running," Hayward added. "Our success would have been difficult without the assistance of the team there."
Conexon works with Rural Electric Cooperatives to bring fiber to the home in rural communities. The company is composed of professionals who have worked in electric cooperatives and the telecommunications industry, and offer decades of individual experience in business planning, building networks, marketing and selling telecommunications. Conexon offers its electric cooperative clients end-to-end broadband deployment and operations support, from a project's conception all the way through to its long-term sustainability. It works with clients to analyze economic feasibility, secure financing, design the network, manage construction, provide operational support, optimize business performance and determine optimal partnerships. To date, Conexon has assisted nearly 200 electric cooperatives, nearly 50 of which are deploying fiber networks, with more than 150,000 connected fiber-to-the-home subscribers across the U.S. The company has secured over $1.3 billion in federal and state funding for its clients.