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Some Electric Customers In No Man’s Land

Lee McMinn (standing) explained that many Water Valley Electric Department customers who live outside the city limits have no current or future options for access to broadband internet.

WATER VALLEY – City officials heard a plea from local realtor Lee McMinn for the City of Water Valley to enter negotiations for Tallahatchie Valley Electric Power Association (TVEPA) to provide broadband internet service for areas outside of the city limits that receive electricity from the Water Valley Electric Department.

McMinn explained that although the federal government has allocated billions of dollars to provide or improve broadband internet service for rural America, people who live outside the city limits of Water Valley and receive electricity from the city’s electric department will not receive broadband internet from TVEPA, even though they are adjacent to TVEPA’s coverage area.

“This group of people have been left out of the conversation completely,” McMinn explained during the Oct. 4 meeting. “They do not have access to any existing services like AT&T or Maxxsouth Cable. They have nothing, I don’t even have good cell phone service where I am at.”

McMinn also noted that some of the city customers outside of the municipal limits may not be aware that there are no plans to provide broadband internet service for them.

TVEPA’s effort to provide broadband and telephone service began in 2019, as it became Mississippi’s first electric cooperative to begin the process of bringing fiber to the home, through TVIfiber, for its nine-county service area. Construction started on Phase Three, the final phase of the buildout which includes Yalobusha County, in March. This buildout for TVEPA customers is expected to be completed in the second quarter of 2023, allowing all of the company’s customers in a nine-county area access to broadband internet.

“They are within sight of us now, they are coming,” McMinn stressed about TVEPA’s buildout. I think the last schedule showed the second quarter of 2023. But sadly, when it gets here it doesn’t include a lot of City of Water Valley Electric Department customers who have no internet access.”
McMinn then posed two questions for the Board of Alderpersons.

“Could a conversation happen with TVIfiber and the city to negotiate a deal for TVIfiber to run fiber internet on city poles?” McMinn asked. His initial request focused on city customers who live outside the city limits and are in close proximity to TVEPA’s coverage area.

McMinn next asked about a second option – would it be feasible for the City of Water Valley’s electric department to release the outlying customers from the City of Water Valley where they could receive power from TVEPA and have access to broadband internet through TVIfiber.

“There have been some talks with Tallahatchie Valley,” Mayor Donald Gray answered. “What I was told by them was all of their customers who want fiber have to have the option first. They have to string all of their franchised area. Then they would be willing to talk to us, but they didn’t make a promise. That answers the first question, there has been some dialogue between me and TVEPA.”

Answering the second question, Gray noted that if the city is not able to reach an agreement with TVEPA, the option for the city to give up some of its customers to TVEPA to allow them to receive fiber through TVIfiber could be discussed. Gray acknowledged that deal would also be contingent on approval from Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), the largest public power agency in the country.

“I know that would have to go through TVA. But I am sure if the board (of aldermen) choses to give up those customers, TVA would let us amend our policy,” Gray explained.

Timing Is Essential

McMinn then questioned the timing of negotiating an agreement with TVEPA to provide fiber for city electric department customers, a discussion that included providing fiber for the customers who live outside the city limits or for the entire city.

“I know that a TVEPA board representative expressed to you that they were going to wait and get all their contracts fulfilled first, before even talking about having a conversation,” McMinn told the mayor. “To me, that sounds absurd.”

McMinn explained that waiting until the final buildout for TVEPA’s coverage area in Yalobusha County is completed could mean a lengthy delay if a deal is not reached while TVEPA has contractors in place for the work.

He noted contractors employed by TVEPA may go to other jobs if there is a lapse between completing TVEPA’s buildout and starting on a buildout for city customers.

“Why not have the conversation and get all the details worked out?” McMinn asked. “If we had that conversation now and got all the i’s dotted and t’s crossed, perhaps they would realize they would gain more customers per mile by going in the city limits,” McMinn continued, a reference to TVEPA starting in the city immediately after completing the buildout in their service area.

“While they are installing fiber in the very western part of the county, it turns south at that point before it comes back north. That is why the second quarter of next year is when they will actually be in our area,” Gray said.

“So now is the time to hit the hammer,” City Attorney Daniel Martin noted.
“Right now,” McMinn agreed. “They are almost here.”

“I can assure you that more in-depth discussions will follow with the CEO of TVEPA,” Gray said.

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