Bay Springs Impact

TEC bridging ‘digital divide’ to Pine Belt area

By Heath Walley, Jasper County News Editor

Rural Mississippians in five local counties that have been seeking and begging for reliable internet service over the years may finally have something coming their way.

A digital bridge into the rural atmosphere is near.

TEC, a Bay Springs home-based company, announced Monday in Bay Springs at a special event attended by statewide and local dignitaries in Bay Springs the “Central Mississippi Rural Community Fiber ReConnect Project.” The historic project, pumped by a sizable USDA grant, has been designed to help provide 
dependable, high speed internet access to rural portions of Mississippi that have been over the years “unserved” or “underserved” with broadband internet access.

TEC is known as a leading rural broadband internet provider in the southeast, and the ReConnect Project is expected to bring crucially needed rural internet service locally to five counties - Jasper, Smith, Newton, Lauderdale, and Jones.

Construction is expected to begin in 2021.

“We are thrilled to receive this award from the USDA ReConnect Program. This grant assists TEC in our commitment to improving the communities we serve and surrounding areas, bringing increased fiber internet options to rural Mississippians,” explained TEC Executive Vice President Joey Garner. “We are excited to begin construction and get more people connected. We also are thankful for this opportunity to serve neighboring areas and decrease the digital divide in our state.”

The USDA grant awarded to TEC through the ReConnect Project totals $4,692,817. TEC is providing a cash match of $2,603,098 for an overall project investment of $7,295,915.

The project, which will involve TEC running approximately 200 miles of “fiber,” is expected to bring dependable, high-speed internet service to over 1,500 homes and businesses within the project area.

According to TEC, its fast fiber internet will bring service to residents in the Stringer, Moss, Hickory, Chunky, and Taylorsville communities, and those residents will finally be able “to enjoy the benefits of a modern standard of connectivity – with internet speeds reaching up to a full gigabit.”

Garner also mentioned a collaborative partnership with another local company, Southern Pine Electric, during the venture that also serves the local rural community.

“About one-half of the homes and businesses impacted by this grant are our Southern Pine neighbors. We look forward to serving these members as we collaborate with Southern Pine today and in the future,” she said.

U.S. Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith of Mississippi was in Bay Springs Monday for the announcement of the ReConnect Project involving TEC.

“The ReConnect Program grant funds will help provide high-speed internet e-Connectivity to thousands of Mississippians across five rural counties. I’m excited that this important USDA Rural Utility Service investment will benefit households, businesses, farms, and our essential public safety, community services, educational, and healthcare facilities,” she said.

“I look forward to seeing all of the benefits that this ReConnect Program investment brings to this region of Mississippi.”

Mississippi Southern District Public Service Commissioner Dane Maxwell also applauded TEC’s venture with the ReConnect Project and conveyed projects of the kind are important in various aspects of growth in the state.

“This is exciting news for TEC customers in Jasper, Smith, Jones, Newton and Lauderdale Counties, as well as for TEC. Service expansion projects like this are vital to our future growth as a state in business, education, healthcare, economic development and more,” he explained . “I’d like to thank TEC for their hard work and partnership with the PSC and USDA to make projects like this happen for Mississippi,”

According to TEC, it has already received over 500 requests for service in the areas described within project area, and the demand and need for better connectivity among community members is evident.

TEC, according to a press release Tuesday, is committed to serving these requests efficiently and effectively, bringing these customers cutting edge connectivity in the digital era. Fiber optic broadband is a future-proof technology that increases property values and improves the quality of life, replacing older copper lines that, while effective and functional, can never provide the speed and reliability of fiber optic cable. Fiber internet means better access to health care through telemedicine, more educational opportunities through distance learning, increased opportunities for economic development, and of course, a better video streaming and gaming experience, making it the clear choice for today’s hurdles, as well as a promising investment in the future of internet access.

TEC, through the ReConnect project, says it will also provide local and long-distance voice options, security, and smart home solutions as part of their comprehensive services for the rural patron.

USDA Under Secretary for Marketing and Regulatory Programs Greg Ibach mentioned projects like the one TEC is involved are important for future growth in rural communities and infrastructure across the country.

“Under the leadership of President (Donald) Trump and Agriculture Secretary (Sonny) Perdue, USDA has prioritized connecting America’s rural communities to this essential infrastructure,” he said. “When rural America thrives, all of America thrives, and expanding access to this critical infrastructure will help ensure rural America prospers for years to come.”

TEC has been providing telecom services to rural America for nearly a century and was the first to bring internet options to its rural markets more than 20 years ago. TEC also continues to provide economic stability to local service areas, employing over 200 people across Alabama, Mississippi, and Tennessee. Currently, TEC has invested in and maintains approximately 3,700 miles of copper and over 1,300 miles of fiber in its rural markets, providing access to over 20,000 homes, families, and businesses.