Broadband Given Green Light for Rural Mississippi

By Anthony SanFilippo

Gov. Phil Bryant recently signed the Mississippi Broadband Enabling Act into law. This legislation, with wide-ranging bi-Partisan support, will address the problems with access to broadband internet that lingers for residents in the more rural parts of the state.

There’s no question that communities flourish when they offer a high quality of life at a reasonable cost. However, quality of life isn’t always limited to recreational activities or good schools or even local job opportunities.

Quality of life should also include the environments in which people live, and to promote such livable communities, growth should be championed. Instead, for a long time in rural Mississippi, it was stunted.

Arcane laws that prohibited Mississippi’s electric cooperatives from providing high-speed internet access to certain communities had a negative impact on the residents there.

But now, with this new law, the youth of rural Mississippi can flourish with this broadband access, offering them far more exposure to educational opportunities than ever before. That’s because many folks no longer consider high-speed internet an amenity, but rather an educational necessity.

The law enables electric cooperatives to provide broadband service where as previously they could only provide electricity. It also authorizes the cooperatives to establish broadband affiliates as well as to partner with other broadband operators for the deployment of broadband services.

It also ensures that the installation of a broadband system does not diminish the reliability of the electric delivery system.

Importantly, the law does not seek any state or federal funding, does not mandate any cooperative to implement a broadband system; does not interfere with any existing broadband service providers or the services they offer or permit access to facilities owned by electric cooperatives.

Also, this law does not require a person to purchase broadband service as a condition of receiving electric service.

While this is all a positive step, it could still be several years before rural Mississippians see the benefit from the bill.

The President and CEO of Southern Pine, and electric provider in Mississippi, told WLBT3, an NBC affiliate in Jackson, that getting broadband out to the rural areas will be a major undertaking.

“We do have some fiber that we’ve run for electric smart grid reasons,” Jason Siegfried said. “But you’re talking about 200 miles of line versus 7,000 miles of fiber. That is a lot of fiber infrastructure that has to be installed to reach all the members. It’ll be many years before we have any real penetration.”

Since there are no state funds appropriated for broadband infrastructure projects, the federal government is preparing an extensive grant program for the expansion of high-speed internet. Mississippi is now in position to apply for these types of programs.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) launched a program in December to offer $600 million in loans and grants to rural areas for investment in broadband infrastructure.

According to the Jackson Free Press, these funds are for projects aimed at serving fewer than 20,000 people who live in areas either with no broadband service or with services that have download speeds slower than 10 megabits per second and slower than 1 mbps for uploads.  Projects created with the USDA funds are required to implement speeds of at least 25 mbps download and 3 mbps upload.

A study conducted by BroadbandNow.com, ranks Mississippi ahead of only Montana in the U.S. when it comes to internet coverage. Approximately 30 percent of the state does not have broadband access. By comparison, New Jersey, which has the best ranking in the country, has 99 percent of its residents with access to broadband.

Additionally, Mississippi’s internet speeds rank among the slowest in the country at just 25.2 mbps, which lags well behind neighboring states like Louisiana (35.1 mbps) and Alabama (33.7 mbps).


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