High-speed internet is coming to Carroll County in a big way.

Delta Electric Power Association received word Tuesday that it has been awarded a $4.4 million matching grant that will enable it to get in the business of providing broadband service and more, along with electricity.

“It’s going to benefit a lot of people and improve the quality of life for a lot of folks. So we’re excited about being a part of it,” said David O’Bryan, general manager of Delta Electric, who will also serve as CEO of the electric cooperative’s internet subsidiary, Delta Fiber LLC.

Delta Electric was one of 13 cooperatives in North Mississippi awarded a share of the $65 million in grant money set aside earlier this month by the Legislature to increase expansion of high-speed internet service to areas that lack it. The cooperatives are required to match the grant dollar-for-dollar with their own investment. The grant money was part of the coronavirus relief money the state received from Congress.

The area targeted for Delta Electric’s initial foray into providing internet service covers a large swath of Carroll County as well as a couple of census tracts in adjacent Grenada County. The area has the highest concentration of unserved and underserved internet consumers within the 13-county area covered by the utility, which is headquartered in Greenwood.

Delta Electric has about 4,500 electricity customers in Carroll County. The broadband project initially will reach nearly half of them, with plans to quickly expand to many of the rest.

“One side of the road might be in the grant area, the other side not,” O’Bryan said. “We will be serving those adjacent areas as well. We just have to prioritize the grant areas first under the terms of the award.”

Delta Electric will soon begin running fiber-optic cable along its existing utility poles and other electrical distribution infrastructure.

It has contracted with Conexon, a Kansas City, Missouri, company that specializes in helping rural electric cooperatives build fiber networks, to serve as project manager.

Once installed, the service, to be called “DE Lightspeed,” will have minimum download and upload speeds of 100 megabits per second, with options to expand to as much as 1,000 megabits per second. Because it’s fiber-based, the upload speeds are many times faster than what a cable-based service can offer.

“It’s a world-class service that you would only find in a few places in the United States, maybe in the large cities,” O’Bryan said.

Pricing will be announced in September, when Delta Electric expects to launch a website on which residents and businesses can check whether their address is in the service area and sign up. Installation to subscribers is expected to begin in October or November and will be handled on a first-come, first-served basis. O’Bryan said the pricing will be “reasonable and affordable.”

Eventually, subscribers will also be able to bundle their internet service with telephone and television services, also provided by Delta Electric.

Although state law allows the rural cooperatives to provide internet service outside of their designated electrical service areas, O’Bryan said that Delta Electric does not plan to do so “at the moment.” That means the broadband expansion will not include much of Carroll County’s three municipalities — Carrollton, North Carrollton and Vaiden. They are served by Entergy Mississippi.

It’s estimated that less than a third of Carroll County residents have access to broadband. O’Bryan, who himself lives on a gravel road in the county without high-speed internet access presently, describes Carroll County as “ground zero for unserved and underserved consumers.”

Bringing service there is being looked at as a pilot project, the results of which Delta Electric will study to determine whether it’s economically feasible to expand the offering elsewhere.

“It’s small enough that we can get everything lined up, get into the business, fine-tune it, get the kinks out and hopefully bigger things will happen down the road,” O’Bryan said.

He compared the present excitement to when Delta Electric, more than seven decades ago, brought electricity to many of these same rural areas.

“It is especially needed given the ongoing health emergency we are under with the coronavirus pandemic and the urgent need for distance learning, telework and telehealth capabilities.”

Richard Macy, a retired financial adviser, is already able to get broadband service through a cable provider because he lives near Mississippi 35. But he’s the exception, he said. “Most of my friends and neighbors don’t have access to high-speed internet, and they are very frustrated.”

He said he has heard stories of families, with schools resorting to distance learning because of the pandemic, running up large charges for data overages on their cellphone service.

Delta Electric’s entry into the internet arena is designed to solve that problem and others.

“We definitely live in the digital age,” O’Bryan said. “Some areas were deprived of that. This will definitely be a real game changer for our consumers.”

• Contact Tim Kalich at 581-7243 or tkalich@gwcommonwealth.com.

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