GEORGE COUNTY, Miss. (WKRG) – Fiber-optic internet is being installed in rural parts of George and Greene counties. It brings reliable internet access to some homes and businesses for the first time.

A Perry County home was the first subscriber to be connected through SR Connect, Singing River Electric Cooperative’s internet subsidy, last December. Since then, the company’s fully moved into the first phase. It includes subscribers in Greene County’s Brewer community and part of the Agricola community in George County.

The fiber lines run with the company’s electric lines, either above or below ground, from the company’s substations and feeders. The Barton Agricola substation, which began connection this week, could connect 1,300 subscribers.

“Right now we have board approval to construct phases 1 and 2. I believe our ultimate goal would be to bring it to most all, if not all, of our Singing River Electric members, but right now we’re getting approved on a phase-by-phase basis,” said public relations manager Lorri Freeman.

Phase 2 could begin as early as this fall. The company won’t announce the phase until crews are ready to connect the homes from the specific areas in the expansion. SR Electric customers will receive a postcard in the mail if they are eligible to sign-up for free fiber installation.

Only the cooperative’s electric customers are included in the currently planned phases, but board members could vote to expand installation in the future.

Less than 26% of homes in Greene County currently have access to broadband with at least 25 megabits per second speed, the 5th lowest accessibility rate in the state, according to Federal Communications Commission data.

The Broadband Expansion and Accessibility of Mississippi office is expected to open later this year. Gov. Tate Reeves signed a bill in April creating it to distribute $162 million in federal American Rescue Plan Act money to internet providers. The state could also receive $500 million to $1.1 billion for broadband expansion from the infrastructure bill Congress passed late last year.

The fiber installation is a major upgrade for some small business owners to remain operational and competitive. South Mississippi Light Aircraft in the Agricola community was one of the first customers in the area to receive the service earlier this year.

“We do some engine training and everybody has to have their laptops and use them. We had hotspots that we couldn’t always use, now we can hook 10-15 people up with no problem,” said owner Ronnie Smith.

Reliable internet helps the shop fulfill routine small business duties like sending invoices to customers and placing orders, in addition to enhancing updates to their in-flight software.

“It would buffer a lot. It’d take all night and into the next day to download, now it takes about five minutes,” Smith said.

SR Connect urges anyone interested in receiving fiber internet to indicate that on the company’s website, whether they’re a current Singing River Electric customer or not. Engineers look at the popular locations as one factor in deciding where to expand service to.

“There are some people that try to call because their neighbor has internet with a current provider and they say ‘well sorry we don’t have the capacity to take you at this time’. With our system, you won’t run into that,” said project engineer Brandon Welford. “You won’t miss the boat. As long as the fiber internet is available in your area, we’ll be able to serve you.”

AT&T also recently made fiber available to 400 customers in the Lucedale area, a company spokesperson said. 3,000 homes in George County are subscribed or eligible for access. The company offers discounted rates to eligible homes.

The Affordable Connectivity Program also offers a $30/month discount to homes already receiving other federal assistance, including free or reduced price school lunches or a federal Pell grant, or with income at 200% or less than the Federal Poverty Guidelines.