In the 1930s, officials from electric cooperatives put a focus on bringing electricity to rural areas where other companies couldn’t – or wouldn’t – reach with that service.
Ninety years later, a similar situation is taking place with broadband internet – a service that Pearl River Valley Electric Power Association is launching with a fiber-to-the-home network that will serve all of the 51,000 members in its service territory.
“We view broadband fiber as kind of how electricity was back then,” said Leif Munkel, manager of member services for Pearl River Valley EPA. “It’s a necessity; it’s no longer one of those things that people can just have as a entertainment value.
“It’s something that people need, because the (COVID-19) pandemic really showcased a lot of things – the need for telemedicine, the need for educational purposes for kids who are having to homeschool. That’s why we really took it upon ourselves to really enter into this arena, and to get out there to help our members.”
Pearl River Valley EPA’s five-year deployment of the service – which will provide broadband speed and capabilities, along with phone service – will encompass 4,700 miles of fiber in the 12 counties served by the cooperative. Construction is expected to begin in the summer, with the first members connected by the third quarter of this year.
The network will deliver symmetrical gigabit internet capabilities, along with voice services. Services are offered through PearlComm, a subsidiary of Pearl River Valley EPA.
“The biggest thing is, (customers) are going to be able to have a lot of the opportunities that people in a more urban setting have right now,” Munkel said. “They’ll be able to FaceTime, to go face-to-face with a doctor on the computer to attend whatever medical needs that they have.
“They’re going to be able to attend school virtually. A lot of students aren’t able to do that, and they’re having to go find hot spots throughout the territory to get a WiFi signal. Now they’re going to be able to do that at home.”
The PearlComm fiber network also is expected to bolster Pearl River Valley EPA’s electrical infrastructure with smart grid capabilities that will deliver benefits such as improved power outage response times, better load balancing, and more efficient electricity delivery. Pearl River Valley EPA is partnering with Conexon, a rural fiber-optic network design and construction management company, to design, launch and build the broadband network.
“For decades, the mission of our cooperative has been to make lives and communities better through taking care of our members with high-quality, affordable services,” Pearl River Valley EPA general manager Matthew Ware said in a statement. “Today the board of staff of Pearl River Valley EPA are recommitting to that by delivering world-class, high-speed internet and voice services and bringing the economic, educational and growth benefits of broadband to our communities.”
In March, Pearl River Valley EPA officials will launch a portal that allows people to sign up for their interest in broadband.
“They’ll be able to go on there and they’ll get updates with pricing, and when we’re going to be going into different areas and things like that,” Munkel said. “I do think probably somewhere in March, we’ll probably know prices.”