The state of Mississippi will be getting one of the largest allotments in the BEAD rural broadband funding program–$1.2 billion. The funding comes on top of $151.5 million that the state was awarded from the Capital Projects Fund and an earlier award of $32.6 million from the Broadband Infrastructure Program (BIP).
As Sally Doty, director of the Office of Broadband Expansion and Accessibility of Mississippi (BEAM), put it in an interview with Telecompetitor, “We started with a smaller award and the awards have been getting larger and larger.”
That experience helped Doty and others in her office gain experience that should serve them well in administering the BEAD program. Doty noted, for example, that initially, she didn’t realize how important archaeologists would be to broadband funding programs.
“You have to have them to get the necessary approvals,” she said.
Broadband Infrastructure Program
The BEAM office opened just over a year ago, which was after the state received the BIP award. Responsibility for the award carried over from the Mississippi Public Utilities Staff, where Doty was executive director prior to heading up the BEAM office.
The BIP program, administered by NTIA, provided funding to cover some of the costs of broadband deployments in unserved and underserved areas and was open only to public-private partnerships. The Mississippi Public Utilities Staff opted to serve as the public partner for multiple providers in the state.
The agency stepped in when no other public partner in the state was willing to do so. The award, made in 2022 for $32.5 million, was one of the largest made in the BIP program, which had a budget of $286 million and received applications seeking $2.5 billion.
The projects that received BIP funding must be completed by September 2024, and the BEAM office is still heavily involved in administering that program. As of now, the office has reimbursed about $8 million of the funding.
Capital Projects Fund
Mississippi’s award from the federal Capital Projects Fund was approved in May 2023 and the state wasted no time before it began accepting applications from providers for the funding totaling $151.5 million.
The state is using the money to fund three separate programs – a large-scale project program, a line extension program and a community-based broadband projects program. The community projects program was for communities that want to use money received through the state and local program that was created in the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) as matching funds for buildouts.
The line extension program is intended to cover some of the costs of extending broadband to some of the more remote locations in an area.
“We were surprised that the line extension program was undersubscribed,” said Doty.
Accordingly, the state is shifting some of the money intended for that program to the large-scale projects program. With the funding shifted, the large-scale program will have a budget of $130 million, for which it received applications seeking $500 million.
The BEAM office is currently evaluating those applications and expects to make awards this fall.
Mississippi enlisted Ready.net to create a broadband map for the state. Doing so was helpful in making successful challenges to FCC broadband serviceable locations data for the state, which in turn impacted BEAD allocations.
As a result of the challenges, about 11,000 broadband serviceable locations were added for the state and many more addresses were corrected.
When we asked Doty if the $1.2 billion in BEAD funding will be enough to make broadband available to everyone in the state, she said, “It’s going to be close.”
The answer, she said, will depend on a variety of factors, including awards made using the CPF money awarded to the state and the percentage of matching funds that awardees are willing to contribute.
Doty also noted that electric cooperatives in the state have been aggressive in deploying broadband in rural unserved areas. The state has about two dozen electric cooperatives and 17 of them are deploying or already have deployed broadband.
Doty is hopeful that some of those cooperatives will be willing to bid on some of the areas that will be the most difficult to serve.
“Our cooperatives already have done a tremendous job,” said Doty. “Areas you never thought would have service have gigabit fiber.”
How the state defines extremely high-cost areas also will impact whether universal deployment goals can be met. Rules for the BEAD program call for funding to be used for fiber broadband except in areas that would be the costliest to serve, where less costly technologies such as fixed wireless can be used.
Like most states that Telecompetitor has contacted, Mississippi is still in the process of determining how it will define extremely high-cost areas.
More information about Mississippi broadband, including links to state funding resources, awardees and Telecompetitor news coverage, can be found on the Broadband Nation web page for Mississippi.