High-speed internet race is on

Davy Lopez, employee of National on Demand Fiber Services, bores Tuesday for fiber optic cable installation in Homestead subdivision west of Saltillo where underground utilities make an obstacle course of water, phone, electric and sewer lines.

The race is on. Throughout Saltillo – and other locales – several companies are hanging and laying fiber optic cable to provide high-speed internet to residents.

What began last year with the Mississippi legislature’s passage of a bill allowing electric cooperatives to provide the service to its member-customers has turned into a horserace. At least four provider companies – Tombigbee Electric Power Association, AT&T, C Spire and MaxxSouth – have completed or are nearing completion of their quest to build the fiber-optic infrastructure throughout all or part of Saltillo.

Fiber optic cable is the gold standard for internet access and other applications such as phone and television; most folks have not had access to it in the past. Subcontractor crews have been busy in Saltillo for months, now. In most of the city of about 5,000, overhead cable has been being installed on power poles while several subdivisions where underground utilities serve residents, crews with boring machines have laid orange conduit that will be threaded with the fiber optic cable.

According to Mayor Rex Smith, the underground activity has added to the workload of the city’s small public works department, since at least two workers have worked practically full time marking grass lawns with paint defining paths of existing underground utilities such as water, sewer, electric, phone and gas.

“Our guys worked their rear ends off locating and marking. It hasn’t been as terrible as it could be,” Smith said of the occasional boring of existing underground lines.

That is one of the unfortunate results of errant boring; a couple weeks ago, one crew bored through a sewer line, a water line and an electric line in Wesson Heights subdivision. A city official said repairs to them are paid for by the city if the lines have not been marked or are marked incorrectly while the internet company pays if they were marked.

“Hopefully, they will all be out of here soon,” said Smith. “This is the bad part of a very good thing.”

He said people have contacted him about living in Saltillo but couldn’t because they work from home and need high-speed internet; that, according to Smith, will soon not be an issue and should increase the number of people who move to town. Asked when high-speed internet will be available to Saltillo residents,

Bill Long, general manager of Tombigbee Electric Power Association, said, “It’s hard to say, there are so many variables.” Some of those variables have been a very rainy spring, the COVID-19 pandemic and hurricanes and tropical storms that have pulled some of TEPA’s crews to other locales to assist with recovery operations.

TEPA’s internet venture, under the name Tombigbee Fiber LLC, began its Saltillo effort in February and originally estimated service to be available to subscribers in a year, February 2021.

Long said that date has been pushed to March or April. Saltillo is in Phase 1 of four planned phases, based on its substation territories, in TEPA’s service area; also included in Phase 1 is the Barnes Crossing area, Dorsey, Mantachie, Unity and Belden.

The highest concentration of customers, said Long, is Fulton with 41 customers per mile; at least 129 Fulton customers are now receiving Tombigbee Fiber. Long said TEPA maintains 4,200 miles of electric lines. Its internet cable mileage will include 3,000 miles of which 700 miles will be underground cable. The service will initially include internet and phone while television will likely be added in the future.

For more information about the service and date of availability call 877-Fiber2U or visit www.tombigbeeelectric.com. Other companies may be accessed through their respective websites.

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