$10 million federal grant to let Natchez Trace EPA offer area broadband service | Chickasaw Journal

HOUSTON – Natchez Trace Electric Power Association’s (EPA) wholly-owned subsidiary NT Spark, LLC, has secured more than $10 million through the Federal Communications Commission’s Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) Phase I auction to expand its gigabit speed-capable broadband service pilot project, project officials said this week.

The RDOF award follows its 2020 Mississippi CARES Act funding award of $4.3 million. Since securing CARES funding in mid-2020, Natchez Trace Electric has established NT Spark and launched a fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) network in several of its communities.

The RDOF funding, conditionally awarded to NT Spark to provide broadband service in specific areas determined by the FCC to have less than 25/3 Mbps broadband service, will be used to build out portions of Webster and Chickasaw County.

The ultimate goal for NT Spark is to make FTTH available to 100% of the nearly 12,000 members it serves across its seven-county electric territory.

The RDOF funds will enable NT Spark to more quickly build out the network to members, providing them with the economic, community and lifestyle benefits of reliable and affordable fiber Internet service, and expand to nearby communities, company officials said.

NT Spark’s four-year deployment will encompass 900 miles of fiber, offering access to exceptional high-speed Internet.

NT Spark’s 100% fiber network offers ultra-fast speeds for both downloading and uploading. This symmetrical speed and the power of fiber allow multiple users and devices at the same time without any service degradation.

This is a must-have in the age of COVID where the needs for reliable broadband – remote learning, working from home, staying connected with loved ones and virtual doctor visits – have become front and center given the pandemic.

“It has been said that technology has made the world smaller, but our rural communities are still isolated because of lack of access to broadband,” Natchez Trace EPA General Manager Shawn Edmondson said. “Our network build, with funding from the state and FCC, will correct this inequity and immediately improve the quality of life of the people in this area.”

Natchez Trace EPA was a member of the Rural Electric Cooperative Consortium (RECC), a bidding entity of over 90 cooperatives coordinated and led by rural fiber-optic network design and construction management leader Conexon to secure RDOF funds.

Overall, Conexon’s RECC was awarded over $1.1 billion, enabling electric cooperatives across 22 states to deliver world-class FTTH service to over two million rural Americans. Additionally, Natchez Trace EPA worked with Conexon to secure its CARES Act funding.

“By participating in both the CARES Act funding and the RDOF auction, Natchez Trace EPA has maximized the funding available to it, and thereby made possible what may have seemed impossible just a few years ago – construction of a fiber network of the highest quality to all of its members,” said Jonathan Chambers, partner at Conexon.

“Natchez Trace EPA was born out of the Depression to bring electricity to unserved rural areas. Years from now, it will be said that NT Spark was born out of another national crisis, a pandemic, to bring high-speed internet to unserved rural areas. We are proud to work with NT Spark in furthering its fine history of service.”

About Natchez Trace EPA

Natchez Trace EPA is a member owned electric cooperative with headquarters in Houston, Mississippi and district offices in Calhoun City and Eupora. Natchez Trace EPA provides reliable electric service to more than 15,823 members in portions of Calhoun, Chickasaw, Clay, Grenada, Pontotoc, Webster, and Yalobusha counties in north central Mississippi.