For the last several years, officials from Dixie Electric have been made aware of the need for high-speed Internet service in rural areas – an issue that has been brought even more to the forefront because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Through funding from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act – a $2.2 trillion economic stimulus bill issued in response to the economic fallout caused by the pandemic – Dixie Electric will now be able to begin a pilot project to provide that service in the Pine Belt with approximately 206 miles of aerial fiber. The project, which is named DE Fastlink, LCC, will pass about 1,400 homes and small businesses.
“It’s located from Ovett down Highway 15 to the Good Hope community in Perry County, and then from Ovett down Highway 29 to Runnelstown in Perry County,” Dixie Electric general manager Randy Smith said during the organization’s Oct. 24 annual meeting. “(Then it will go) east along Highway 42 toward Richton.”
The total cost of the project, which will take place in two phases, is expected to be $7.4 million. Phase I should be completed by the end of this year, with Phase II completion set for spring 2021.
“It’ll be aerial fiber to the home; it should be high-speed, fiber optic network, which will be constructed on Dixie Electric’s electrical distribution system,” Smith said. “We’ll be able to offer speeds of 100 megabits to 1,000 megabits, and Internet service will be symmetrical, meaning your upload speeds will match your download speeds.”
Pricing begins at $64.95 per month for residential packages and $79.95 per month for business packages. Package pricing and more information about the project can be found online at www.defastlink.net.
The website was created in September to allow members to pre-register for the service during the project’s build-out.
“We’ve had a great response so far, from both members inside the pilot project area and members outside the pilot project area,” Smith said. “Altogether, we’ve had almost a thousand people that have pre-registered for service when it becomes available.
“We’re continuing to explore funding opportunities to be able to expand the service past the pilot area, and we’re excited about the opportunity to provide a needed service to our members. We look forward to seeing the positive impact it’ll have on their communities and the opportunities it’ll bring.”
DE Fastlink was made possible by an amendment to Dixie Electric’s Certification of Incorporation, which previously allowed only for the sale of electricity. Board members passed the amendment with a 96% majority, well past the 60% needed for approval.
“What we’re doing, and have been doing through the voting process, is having the members ratify the board’s actions in their request to amend the articles of incorporation,” said Gene Hortman Jr., who served as master of ceremonies for the annual meeting. “After that’s done, we will then file those amendments with the Secretary of State’s office, and that will complete the legal requirements for us being able to provide broadband services.”