On the banks of the Ross Barnett Reservoir, C Spire, Entergy Mississippi and Misxsissippi Public Service Commission officials Thursday celebrated completion of an $11 million all-fiber infrastructure project that paves the way for advanced broadband internet services in rural areas of Mississippi.
Executives from the two companies and a state regulator said the 18-month project spanning over 300 miles in 15 counties will help accelerate efforts to use broadband inf rastructure to advance the state’s economy, education, healthcare and meet the growing 21st century voice and data communications needs of consumers and businesses.
Construction of the final segment this week also highlighted a historic engineering feat that involved C Spire contractors drilling 40 feet under the lake bottom to connect a 6,585-foot section of the last remaining span between Highway 43 on the southeast end of the reservoir and Pipeline Road on the northwest side of the lake, which serves as the state’s largest drinking water resource.
The span is the longest in C Spire history, eclipsing a 6,000-foot section built in 2016 by the Mississippi-based diversified telecommunications and technology services firm in Smithville five years after an EF5 tornado virtually flattened the small Northeast Mississippi town, killing 16 people, injuring 41 and destroying 117 homes and damaging another 50 buildings.
“A robust, all-fiber broadband infrastructure is essential to move Mississippi forward by paving the way for a digital economy, fostering innovation in education and healthcare, creating job opportunities and improving the overall quality of life for residents and businesses,” said C Spire CEO Hu Meena.
Meena said C Spire installed fiber optic cable and other related broadband communications infrastructure for Entergy along five routes that pass 21 small towns, cities and communities in rural, hard-to-reach parts of the state, including the Delta, North and Central Mississippi, the Pine Belt and Southwest Mississippi.
“This project expands rural broadband access to thousands of homes and businesses in some hard-to-reach areas across Mississippi,” said Entergy Mississippi President and CEO Haley Fisackerly. “It also has modernized our grid, which benefits all Entergy Mississippi customers as it enhances the communication systems that connect our facilities, substations, offices and radio sites.” The company provides electric service to an estimated 445,000 customers in 45 counties across the state.
More than 4,000 homes and over 1,000 business are within 500 feet of the fiber optic lines along the five separate routes, which include the following areas:
•Delta: a 92-mile route through Sunflower, Humphreys, Madison and Hinds counties and near the cities of Indianola, Inverness, Isola, Belzoni, Silver City, Yazoo City, Bentonia, Flora and Jackson.
•North: a 51-mile stretch in Attala, Leake and Madison counties near the towns of McAdams, Kosciusko and Canton.
•Central: a 33-mile route through Madison, Rankin and Scott counties near the towns of Canton, Sand Hill and Morton.
•Pine Belt: a 77-mile route through Simpson, Jefferson Davis, Lawrence and Walthall counties and near the towns of Magee, Prentiss, Silver Creek, Monticello and Tylertown.
•Southwest: a 49-mile stretch in Franklin and Adams counties near the communities of Bude, Meadville, Roxie, Natchez and Eddiceton.
“This project has attracted attention across the nation as we have successfully combined the modernization of the electric grid with the delivery of broadband service to our people,” said Brandon Presley, chairman of the Mississippi Public Service Commission and a long-time advocate for more broadband internet services in rural parts of the state.
“My goal is to see every home in Mississippi connected to broadband internet service and we at the PSC have to look for unique opportunities to maximize every benefit of infrastructure improvement among all utilities and telecommunications carriers if we are to bridge the digital divide,” Presley said. “This is a shining example of how government and the private sector can get things done.”
Meena said C Spire already is connecting customers to the all-fiber infrastructure, including a hospital in Prentiss and a bank and children’s clinic in Monticello. “We’re excited about new opportunities to securely and reliably offer these services with the redundancy and safety that consumers and business expect and deserve,” he added.
Providing more broadband in more places is a key part of the broader C Spire Tech Movement, launched in 2017 and designed to move communities forward through technology with a focus on broadband access, workforce development and technology innovation.
Meena said the broadband push is an outgrowth of the firm’s 2013 groundbreaking Fiber-to-the-Home initiative, one of the first of its kind in the U.S. and the fastest to connect thousands of consumers in 22 Mississippi markets to Gigabit speed internet, live streaming TV and digital home phone service.
C Spire has been on a mission to expand broadband availability and boost average mobile and fixed broadband speeds in Mississippi. The company operates nearly 10,000 route miles of fiber optics across the state and has deployed more wireless spectrum in the region than any other communications provider. The firm recently announced Alabama expansion plans.
In recent years, C Spire’s continuing broadband investment has played a central role in state gains for average mobile and fixed broadband speeds. The company became the state’s fastest internet service provider in 2014 and launched the first 5G millimeter wave fixed wireless service in December 2018 along the Mississippi Gulf Coast in Harrison County.