4-County Unveils Fiber Internet Service Deployment Plan
4-County Electric Power Association unveiled its deployment plan Thursday for FASTnet, a fiber broadband service, for parts of rural Clay, Choctaw, Lowndes, Monroe, Noxubee and Oktibbeha counties.
4-County oversees a coverage area of nine counties, including rural portions of Lowndes, Oktibbeha, Clay, and Noxubee counties. CEO and Managing Director Brian Clark said the company has mastered electrical services, but with in-house training it is now also equipped for fiber internet.
“This is an initial strategy building plan…” Clark said. “We’re going to build a ring around our communication system and expand that.”
Clark said this four-phase fiber build will take about three years. The first phase, which will begin this spring, includes Lone Oak, Montpelier, Maben, Brooksville and Adaton. The second phase, which is expected to begin in early 2022, includes Oktoc, Golden Triangle, Lake Lowndes, Magbee and Stinson Creek.
The co-op began building fiber construction in October 2020 with a pilot program using $6 million from the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. This funding allowed 4-County to kick the project into action, Clark said, granting parts of West Clay, Northeast Choctaw and North Noxubee counties 500 miles of fiber.
After the initial pilot program is complete, 4-County’s long-term plan will be underway with four phases of construction. Clark said phase four is expected to be completed around early 2024 and there will be a total of 5,400 miles of fiber system-wide after the project is completed.
The co-op also secured $35 million from the Federal Communications Commission through the Rural Development Opportunity Fund at the end of 2020 to receive equal installments over 10 years.
FASTnet offers three different membership packages – FAST 200 for $55, FAST 500 FOR $65, or FAST GIG for $80 – all of which include different benefits. Members will also receive $5 off per month if they sign up for Bank Draft and e-Bill.
Internet speeds range from 200 megabits per second for the cheapest plan to 1 gigabit per second for the most expensive.
Clark said as of Thursday, 306 members signed up for FASTnet, with half of those members signing up last month. He said that this service will give internet access to people who otherwise would not have it.
“A lot of people didn’t even have a choice,” Clark said. “I think it’s very impressive to hear these people, how happy they are.”
4-County Electric Power Association spokesman Brad Barr said the COVID-19 pandemic has pushed that plan forward. Due to telemedicine, virtual learning and remote working, the company knew it was essential to provide service to people who needed internet access.
“It helps young kids with school work and older people who work from home, and it just helps from a recreational standpoint,” Barr said.
Clark said he thinks FASTnet will keep people in rural counties rather than moving to more urban areas.
“We hope with this there will be an upsurge of people staying in the country, staying in the community,” Clark said.
“They will have connectivity with the rest of the world. They won’t have to travel closer to town or city to get the same level of service as people in the city.
4-County Fiber Optic Internet Deployment Plan
■ Lone Oak: spring 2021
■ Montpellier: late spring 2021
■ Maben: summer 2021
■ Brooksville: Fall 2021
■ Adaton: late fall 2021
■ Oktoc: Early 2022
■ Golden triangle: summer 2022
■ Lowndes Lake: Fall 2022
■ Magbee: Fall 2022
■ Stinson Creek: Late 2022
■ Waverly: Early 2023
■ By the lake: spring 2023
■ Prairies: Spring 2023
■ Mâcon South: Fall 2023
■ Sturgis: Fall 2023
■ Ackerman: End of 2023
■ Spillway: Early 2024