Mississippi is Tired of Waiting on Big Telecom to Serve Rural Areas

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To close the digital divide in rural Mississippi, the Public Service Commission (PSC) has formally requested that state lawmakers update an antiquated statute (Miss. Code 77-5-205) from the 1930s to allow rural electric cooperatives to offer high-speed internet access.

James Richardson, Policy Director and Counsel from the Office of Commissioner Brandon Presley, explained the law currently only allows electric cooperatives the authority to form, “for the purpose of promoting and encouraging the fullest possible use of electric energy.” Electric cooperatives are precluded from operating for any other purpose.

The PSC asked the state legislature to change the law, reported Community Networks.  

According to Commissioner Brandon Presley, “The first electric cooperatives in the nation were formed right here in Mississippi, and they weren’t formed just to sell electricity. These industrious people of Mississippi formed America’s first electric cooperatives because they wanted rural people to be able to enter the 20th century. Today, we simply ask for rural Mississippi to be allowed to enter the 21st century.”

Many voters agree. According to a survey conducted in fall 2018 by Chism Strategies, an advocacy and public opinion firm, 77 percent of the 646 voters who responded supported the idea of allowing electric cooperatives to offer internet access in Mississippi.

Community Networks reported no other state restricts electric cooperatives with the type of language seen in Miss. Code 77-5-205. If the Mississippi legislature corrects its outdated law, the state’s rural electric cooperatives will be ready.

According to Michael Callahan from Electric Cooperatives of Mississippi, “At this time, 19 of our 25 electric distribution cooperatives are involved in feasibility studies regarding offering rural broadband services. They will be reviewing all aspects and, at the appropriate time, each will make a decision whether to enter the business. If the studies are positive and legislation is passed to allow us to offer broadband, we believe some will offer the services.”

Commissioner Presley added, “We cannot continue to wait on the big telecommunications giants to serve rural people. Telecom companies unwilling to serve rural areas should not prevent rural people from serving themselves through the cooperatives that they own. I hope this resolution makes clear that the Public Service Commission is behind them 100 percent.”  Comments?  Email us.

December 11, 2018

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