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Free access to hotspots funded by grant

Free access to wireless Internet hot spots are available at four locations in northern Pearl River County as part of the Coast Electric broadband pilot project.

The project is being funded with a $6 million federal CARES Act grant, and should bring broadband service to the Derby and Crossroads areas. However, it will take a little time, possibly until October or November, for all of the fiber optic cables to be placed and home broadband service to be offered through the pilot project, Director of Communications April Lollar said.

The grant will be spent by Coast Electric to help expand broadband access as immediately as possible to create an immediate impact in Internet access in the area. As part of that effort, Coast Electric has placed four hot spots that offer free Internet service from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m.

Lollar said she has heard from residents who have already tried the hotspots, and they report the service is working well.

Coast Electric members voted on Aug. 20 about whether they were interested in the co-op offering broadband service. A little over 97 percent of members voted for the service to be offered, said Lollar. The Board will use the pilot project to determine if Coast Electric should further expand broadband services. If the co-op moves to expand service beyond the pilot project, unserved and underserved areas will be the focus first, said Lollar.

“It is costly. Back in 30s, Coast Electric came into being because other utilities wouldn’t serve rural areas (with electricity) because it’s too expensive. It’s the same with broadband now, other companies see the expense and don’t want to serve rural areas,” she said.

The pilot project will offer people, first in the Derby community and then the Crossroads community, the opportunity to subscribe to one of two home broadband service plans, one for 100 mgb per second and one for one Gb per second for upload and download speeds. Those plans also do not have data caps.

Coast Electric will be holding an event Saturday, Sept. 26, to let residents in those areas to pre-register for home broadband service a and to ask Coast Electric staff any questions they may have. The event will be from 9 a.m. to noon at the Pearl River County Fairgrounds in Poplarville.

Anyone interested in the broadband service who is living in Pearl River County is encouraged to pre-register to help the co-op gauge interest in the service.

Northern Pearl River County was selected for the pilot project because the Federal Communication Commission identified it as the most underserved part of the co-op’s service area.

Internet access is especially important for students.

“The world’s changing, technology is more important,” said Poplarville School District Superintendent Konya Miller. “Our rural areas need it as well as our areas in town. If anything COVID has brought out what we already knew, that not everybody has the same services in our area. If we are to go out again for an extended amount of time it’s needed for sure.”

The hot spots are located in the Poplarville area at The Corner Store at 8967 Hwy 11 South; Duval’s Quick Stop at 9797 Hwy. 11; Cale’s Healthy Way at 10155 Hwy. 11; and White Sand Baptist Church at 2037 Hwy. 26 W.