Survey Says Mississippians Want Utilities to Enter Broadband Market

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UPDATE Mississippi-based consulting firm Chism Strategies polled state residents and discovered that they are overwhelmingly in favor of more extensive wireless coverage, reports the Daily Journal. The survey showed Mississippians support having electric utility companies deliver broadband to rural areas.

In December, the Public Service Commission (PSC) 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.

“I am for it [allowing the electric cooperatives to enter the broadband market] if we can find common ground,” said state Senator Terry Burton, R-Newton. “We just need to make sure all the providers are treated the same.” Mississippi legislators will need to figure out if the cooperatives can step in as competitors to existing cable companies, or if they should be given precedence in remote areas that are not currently served by cable providers.

Bipartisan work to develop legislation is already underway, said Mississippi House Public Utilities Chair Jim Beckett, R-Bruce. “We are trying to help solve a big problem,” he said. “But whatever we do will not solve the problem overnight. It will take time.”  

Democratic Northern Public Service Commissioner Brandon Presley helped nudge the process forward when he noted last year, “The lack of affordable, reliable and adequate internet service in Mississippi is a crisis and is one that we had better fix, if we want our children and grandchildren to stay here.”

Presley’s concerns are valid, considering that the FCC ranks Mississippi last when it comes to broadband access.  Even those who do have access often face low transmission speeds that make sharing information unwieldy. Allowing the state’s electric cooperatives to offer broadband services could widen the scope of availability for residents.  Feedback from individuals wanting better internet services pointed out the benefits that it would bring to telemedicine, businesses, and education.

January 22, 2019

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