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Rural broadband legislation brings challenges

By CEO Randy Carroll

In my January article, I discussed the possibility of legislation being introduced allowing Mississippi’s electric cooperatives to provide broadband service if we determined it was operationally and financially feasible.

On Tuesday, Jan. 15, our State House of Representatives passed HB366 allowing cooperatives to form subsidiary businesses to explore providing broadband to our members. The legislation passed 115 in favor to 3 opposed, and on Wednesday, Jan. 23, the Bill passed unanimously in the Senate. Governor Phil Bryant signed the Bill into law on Wednesday, Jan. 30.

The legal and financial challenges associated with broadband are a different story. Now that we have permission from the legislature, we ask for patience from our members. Many questions must be answered before we can make decisions about a path forward. These questions include the proper corporate structure to use, tax implications and financial feasibility. East Mississippi Electric Power Association must now ramp up our study efforts of broadband and continue to reach out to possible partners that can play a role in the delivery of broadband service.

I must admit, with the passage of this legislation, a lot of the same anxiety I feel when a big storm hits, is what I am feeling now. When large portions of our system are impacted, we are faced with the tremendous task of restoring the power. Of course, everyone that has lost power wants it restored to his or her home or business first. Sadly, we can’t get everyone back on at once.

First, we must clear the transmission system and restore power to the substations. We then work the three-phase lines followed by the single-phase lines and finally the services to the homes and businesses. It must be in this orderly progression, or everyone remains without power longer. Yes, those closest to the energy source see their service restored first, but in turn provide the needed link to continue throughout the remainder of the system so that all have power again.

I fully expect broadband to follow this same progression of the source to a needed link. It will take time and substantial capital to construct a system capable of supplying broadband to all in our communities. We at EMEPA, continue to believe greater broadband availability in our services areas will benefit our members substantially, including improvements in quality of life, economic development, education opportunities, health-care benefits and economic growth.

We hear frequently from our members their need for broadband access. Many have tried to purchase access from other utilities and have been told it is not financially feasible to build the infrastructure required to gain access to broadband in their area. This is much like the arguments used in the 1930s when people requested electricity, and from the profit-oriented business perspective, it is a true statement given the return on investment required by these companies.

So where does that leave EMEPA and our members? We ask for your patience as we continue to study the economic feasibility of providing broadband to our members. There remains substantial work to be done. It is without a doubt an expensive proposition. A backbone fiber solution on the EMEPA system could cost as much as $145 Million in addition to the added cost of service and equipment to each home.

It is extremely critical that we perform this analysis correctly. We must address and resolve multiple legal and economic issues in a careful, fully-informed and comprehensive way, and in a way that gets quality, reasonably-priced broadband to as many Mississippians as possible without negatively affecting the distribution system we have worked so hard to build over these 80 years.

Occasionally, I still run into people that tell me stories of how their grandparents waited for electric service to come to their homes. Some waited months and some waited years for cooperative employees to tirelessly work to build the electric distribution system that would someday enhance their quality of life. It won’t surprise me for this to be true with a broadband system as well, but if the first pole had not been set and the first wires strung, rural America would still be dark. It is time to make every attempt possible to bring educational, healthcare and economic growth opportunities to the communities served by EMEPA.

Mississippi Broadband Enabling Act update

On Wednesday, Jan. 23, the state Senate unanimously passed #HB366, or the Mississippi Broadband Enabling Act. Once signed into law by Governor Phil Bryant, electric cooperatives in Mississippi will be authorized to offer high-speed Internet service. We believe greater broadband availability in our service area would benefit our members substantially, including improvements in quality of life,…Continue Reading

Rural broadband legislation

In recent days you may have read several news articles about rural broadband. Both legislators and public service commissioners are becoming more and more supportive of electric cooperatives becoming broadband service providers. We are also aware of the increasing drumbeat throughout the country regarding the need to make quality broadband services available in areas that…Continue Reading

EMEPA office holiday closings

EMEPA offices will be closed Monday, Dec. 24 and Tuesday, Dec. 25 for Christmas and Tuesday, Jan. 1 for New Year’s Day. We wish you and your family and Merry and Bright Christmas. Dispatchers will remain on duty in case of an outage or emergency situation and may be reached at 601-581-8600. Outages may also…Continue Reading

EMEPA recognizes employees for years of service

Thank you for your unwavering service With a combined total of 615 years of service to East Mississippi Electric Power Association and our 37,000+ members, the following employees were recently recognized at EMEPA’s Employee Christmas Dinner for their years of dedication. Thank you for your commitment to lighting east Mississippi. 5-Year Awards Kris Lott Ronald…Continue Reading

EMEPA warns of third-party payment website

WARNING: EMEPA has recently experienced an increase in third-party online bill pay websites that appear to be affiliated with EMEPA, but are not. Such third-party websites allow members to pay their electric bills via their site; however, members may be charged extra fees, and EMEPA cannot control when, or even if, we will receive the member payments,…Continue Reading

We’re Thankful for Your Membership

By Randy Carroll, CEO “Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it.” In the spirit of this quote by author William Arthur Ward, I’d like to take this opportunity to express my gratitude for your membership in our electric cooperative. Because of your connection to East Mississippi Electric…Continue Reading

EMEPA hosts Cooperative University

  From a hands-on safety and “Life of a Lineman” demonstration to a guided tour of East Mississippi Electric Power Association’s headquarters, 14 students from across east Mississippi recently experienced first hand what it means to be part of an electric cooperative. EMEPA hosted Cooperative University in October as part of its annual Youth Leadership…Continue Reading

EMEPA prepares to send crews to Florida

East Mississippi Electric Power Association is preparing to send 18 employees including linemen, servicemen and engineers to Tri-County Electric Cooperative, Inc., headquartered in Madison, Florida, to aid in power restoration efforts following Hurricane Michael. Tri-County Electric’s service territory is among the areas in the predicted path of Hurricane Michael, which is currently a category 4…Continue Reading

The challenge of meeting member needs

By CEO Randy Carroll This year marks the 80th year East Mississippi Electric Power Association has been delivering the energy needed to empower lives and grow our communities. The 139 employees of EMEPA are dedicated to building, maintaining and operating over 5,700 miles of distribution lines in a safe, affordable and reliable manner. To do…Continue Reading