CoastConnect has been awarded a $7.86 million grant from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to expand its high-speed fiber internet system. The grant will be awarded over a 10-year period, for an annual total of $786,567.99. Funds will be used to expand CoastConnect’s system to areas the FCC has designated as unserved or underserved in Harrison, Hancock and Pearl River counties.
CoastConnect participated in the FCC’s Rural Digital Opportunity Fund Auction (RDOF Auction) as a member of the Rural Electric Cooperative Consortium. The RDOF Auction concluded on Nov. 25, 2020, with 180 winning bidders being awarded a total of $9.2 billion over 10 years. Mississippi’s winning RDOF Auction bidders received the second highest amount of state support at $495 million with California receiving the highest amount at $695 million. The Rural Electric Cooperative Consortium won $1.1 billion of nationwide FCC support in 22 states and $220.6 million of FCC support in Mississippi alone. Under FCC communication rules, CoastConnect was prohibited from publicly disclosing its RDOF Auction results until now.
“Receiving these funds will greatly benefit residents in Pearl River, Hancock and Harrison counties,” said CoastConnect and Coast Electric CEO Ron Barnes. “Improving the economy and quality of life in the communities we serve is Coast Electric’s mission. CoastConnect, our high-speed internet subsidiary, is helping us fulfill that mission by bringing opportunities to rural areas that previously didn’t exist. Rural residents will be afforded the same access that others in more densely populated areas have had for years. It’s exciting to see CoastConnect bridging the digital divide, allowing opportunities for education, healthcare and economic growth in our communities.”
Coast Electric previously received $6 million dollars in matching grants for a pilot broadband project under the Mississippi Electric Cooperatives COVID-19 Grant Program from $1.2 billion of CARES Act federal stimulus funds allocated to Mississippi. Since receiving that grant and the forming of CoastConnect, more than 500 customers in Pearl River County have been connected and are receiving high-speed internet service with symmetrical upload and download speeds of 100 megabits or 1 gigabit, with no data caps.
The construction process for CoastConnect follows Coast Electric’s electric system. Fiber huts are installed at Coast Electric substations and fiber lines are built out of the substation, following the path of electric lines.
CoastConnect is currently installing service for residents in the areas of Coast Electric’s Derby and Crossroads substations in northern Pearl River County. Construction continues with plans to expand service in the following areas:
McNeil substation area in central PRC – By the end of May 2021
Spence substation area in east central PRC – By the end of July 2021
Salem substation area south eastern PRC – By the end of October 2021
Necaise substation area in northern Hancock County – To be announced later in 2021
These dates indicate when CoastConnect will be able to schedule service installations to all potential customers in the areas served by the substation indicated. Installation to homes and businesses will be ongoing.
Additional areas will be announced near the end of 2021. The goal is to have all Coast Electric areas in service by 2026.