By Alyssa Schnugg
The lack of access to affordable, high-speed internet is killing rural Mississippi, according to Public Service Commissioner for the Northern District Brandon Presley.
“This is a literal crisis in an epic proportion,” Presley said Monday at the Lafayette County Chancery Building during the first of a series of public meetings planned for across north Mississippi to engage citizen task forces to highlight the lack of cellular telephone service and high-speed internet service in each county.
“We are 49th in the country for connectivity,” he said. “Our state has lost population every year for the last three years. Is that solely because of the lack of high-speed internet? No, but it darn sure has played a major part. Having access to high-speed internet in an affordable manner separates the communities that are succeeding and communities falling behind.”
One way to help the problem is to provide some competition for the major internet providers who show little interest in serving the rural communities in Mississippi, Presley said, is by removing a Mississippi law that bans electrical cooperatives from offering internet service.
“It’s a horse and buggy law and Mississippi is the only state in the South that has this law,” he said. “We’re fixing to try to change that.”
Presley said he is planning on submitting a bill in the next legislative session that would abolish the current law.
“This law only benefits carriers that don’t want competition and are stopping the progress of our state,” he said.
If successful, the bill would only abolish the current law. All internet carriers would still be allowed to serve any rural community they choose. It would only now allow electrical cooperatives to offer the service.
Presley said a federal bill allocates $600 million for electric cooperatives and rural utilities to bring broadband to rural areas.
“But we can’t touch any of those federal funds because of this antiquated law,” he said.
Presley also asked the task force members Monday to assist the PSC in documenting the lack of reliable cellular telephone service and data service by using a free smartphone app approved by the Federal Communications Commission.
Currently, the FCC shows that Mississippi has adequate cellular telephone service and data service in almost every county.
“Because of this wrong information, mostly based on the claims of one carrier, Mississippi is in danger of losing millions in federal funding for cellular telephone towers in rural areas,” Presley said.
To preserve the funding, the Mississippi Public Service Commission is issuing a formal challenge to the FCC’s maps. Field tests by PSC employees and task force members will assist in documenting the lack of service.
Those wishing to be a member of the Lafayette County task force, contact Presley’s office at 800-637-7722 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.