What you need to know about DeSoto County's broadband expansion

What you need to know about DeSoto County’s broadband expansion

When DeSoto County District 4 Supervisor Lee Caldwell asked the group gathered at a community meeting Friday in DeSoto who had Internet access 12 years ago, no one raised a hand. But 12 years ago, the FCC’s broadband maps showed DeSoto had full coverage.

“We didn’t have it,” Caldwell said. “Our first goal was to show the FCC that their map was incorrect.”

To do that, supervisors went to DeSoto County schools to conduct surveys to see how many people actually didn’t have high-speed internet or who had poor internet. Some 15,000 people were surveyed.

That was just the beginning of the county’s push to expand high-speed Internet access. Today, the county says that thanks to a new partnership with three Internet providers, high-speed Internet will be available to all of DeSoto in the near future.

Here’s what people need to know about the broadband expansion happening in DeSoto County.

How many people today do not have access to high speed Internet?

In DeSoto County, 3,250 homes currently do not have internet, according to the county. This includes Ray Denison, Chairman of the DeSoto County Board of Supervisors.

“I’m excited because I’m in an underserved area and the people around me are underserved,” Denison said at a community meeting. “It will be nice to turn on my computer and not have to wait two days for an answer.”

There’s a national broadband map from the Federal Communications Commission that’s supposed to show which addresses have Internet access and what Internet services are available, but DeSoto County and the state of Mississippi found that more than 4,000 addresses were left out. of the map. The county and state have filed challenges to ensure those addresses are included, and Sally Doty, director of broadband expansion and accessibility for the Mississippi office, said residents may also file individual challenges.

“If you want to go look at that FCC map, you can just type in FCC Broadband Map, Google it, and it’ll send you over,” Doty said. “And you can put an individual challenge to your address, it will show you the providers and you can say ‘oh no, that provider isn’t here’ or ‘that provider doesn’t provide that speed.’ You can file a challenge and then the FCC will contact that provider and resolve it. We’d love for all of you to do that.”

What’s the plan?

DeSoto County will award grants to three different Internet providers: AT&T, C-Spire, and Uplink Internet, to help subsidize the expansion of high-speed Internet.

District 2 Supervisor Mark Gardner said that prior to his supervisory role, he worked in the telecommunications business. When he sat down to design broadband services, he used the criteria of about 20 homes per mile. Anything with 20 houses per mile was economically feasible. But this approach has left many areas in DeSoto neglected.

“A telecommunications provider, it doesn’t matter if it’s Comcast, AT&T, C-Spire, Northcentral, they’re going to build where it’s economically feasible,” Gardner said. “But there’s no incentive to build two miles of plant to reach three customers because the payback model is about 60 years.”

AT&T will serve the Nesbit, Walls, Eudora and Hernando South area. C-Spire will serve the Lewisburg and Bankston area and Uplink will serve the Delta area north of Lake Cormorant.

Where does the money come from?

Funding for these grants comes from the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021. DeSoto County was allocated about $35 million to supervisors and $11.7 million of that will be used for Internet provider grants.

“Supervisors recognized the great need for high-speed Internet in our county,” Caldwell said. “Now it’s just as important as the driveway in front of your house. It’s for public safety, you need it for your alarm system. Everyone needs this, and we recognize that. So we needed to incentivize vendors to come to “Those far-reaching areas, because it’s about money. Providers look at the cost-benefit ratio of running fiber. And sometimes when there are long distances in rural areas, it wasn’t cost-effective.”

How is the timeline?

Once the contracts are finalized, the three companies will immediately start projects, the county said. Caldwell expressed hope that they will all be covered within two years.

“And some people say ‘oh, that’s too long,'” Caldwell said. “But think about what it takes, you have to do the engineering, you have to get the accessibility, the right-of-way, and that’s something you can help do. If they’re going to come across your property or something, working with the provider to help move this forward.”

Doty urged caution when it comes to setting deadlines.

“It’s not as fast as you want it to be,” Doty said. “When you say two years for your build, I expect it to be two. The way you guys do things here, I think it’s probably two years.”

Gina Butkovich covers DeSoto County, stories and general news. You can reach her at 901-232-6714.

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