- Associated Press - Thursday, September 3, 2015

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) - Three telecommunications companies are getting $51.5 million to expand fast Internet service in rural parts of Mississippi that currently don’t have access.

AT&T; is getting $49.8 million from the Federal Communications Commission. That’s enough to make service available to 134,000 customers statewide who don’t have access now, and is 12 percent of the $427 million AT&T; is accepting nationwide.

Windstream Communications is getting $917,000 to serve 2,760 customers in parts of eight southern and central Mississippi counties. Frontier Communications is getting $817,000 to serve 2,528 customers in parts of eight northeast Mississippi counties.

Dallas-based AT&T; says it will use fixed wireless and possibly other methods to offer service in various areas of the state. Spokesman Lance Skelly said the company isn’t sure yet where it will offer service, or what methods it will use.

“AT&T; is committed to serving rural Mississippi and using all available technologies, including AT&T;’s innovative fixed wireless program that delivers broadband through the air using base stations and fixed antennas on customers’ homes or buildings,” AT&T; Mississippi President Mayo Flynt said in a statement.

FCC records show AT&T; was allotted money to expand service in all 82 counties, as well as in fringes of Alabama, Louisiana and Tennessee served by Mississippi phone networks. Counties allotted the largest amount of money include Amite, Attala, Carroll, Kemper, Neshoba and Wayne.

Connecticut-based Frontier said it will focus on four northeast Mississippi towns - Guntown, Houlka, Rienzi and Tishomingo. FCC records show the vast majority of Arkansas-based Windstream’s money is allotted to expand service in Jefferson Davis County.

The FCC says it plans to spend more than $10 billion to subsidize the expansion of fast Internet networks across the country in the next six years, using money that telecommunications customers pay as part of the $4.5 billion-a-year universal service fund. That money also subsidizes high-cost telephone service and Internet connections to schools, libraries and hospitals.

Mississippi is a disproportionately large beneficiary of that money, getting more than $238 million in 2014. But in some rural counties such as Amite or Walthall, the FCC estimates more than half of residents don’t have access to even moderately fast Internet connections. The FCC reported last year that 15 million Americans, primarily in rural areas, had no broadband access.

Under the terms of the Connect America Fund, companies taking money must offer connections that allow download speeds of 10 megabit per second and upload speeds of 1 megabit per second. Carriers must build 40 percent of their commitment by the end of 2017, and all of it by the end of 2020.

The FCC said some companies didn’t accept all the money offered in some states. Federal regulators said they will seek competitors in those cases.


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