The MS House legislature has created a bill that gives rural communities the option to obtain high-speed internet. This bill allows electric co-ops to provide broadband internet to houses in the deepest part of the rural community.
Almost every member of the state legislature was in agreement, with the Senate passing the bill unanimously.
“Current state law prohibits rural electric cooperatives from providing internet service, although no such law exists anywhere else in America,” the Mississippi Public Service Commission stated in a press release. “Currently, 107 rural electric cooperatives are providing internet service across the country, including in all of the states bordering Mississippi.
According to those interviewed for this story, big companies like C-Spire and AT&T do not want to go out in the rural parts of the state to provide internet because there are not enough customers in rural communities. Providing internet in those areas would cost too much to install, considering the low profits they would receive. Also, those companies would have to charge higher rates, which would result in homeowners refusing to buy an internet package.
Randy Loper, head of the Mississippi State University Extension Center for Technology Outreach, said there is a large part of the residential population with no internet access.
“There is a tremendous shortage of broadband availability in the State of Mississippi,” Loper said.
Loper described no-internet areas as “broadband deserts.” These areas put Mississippi in a rank of 49 out of 50 states with those that have residential access to internet, Montana being 50th.
Thankfully, all Mississippians could now have the option to internet. In today’s fast-pace technological advancements, internet access is a necessity. Not only is internet needed to give people instant access to a multitude of resources, but internet is needed for agricultural equipment.
The majority of agricultural equipment companies are inserting artificial intelligence into their machines to maximize efficiency and convenience. To keep the machinery working, updates must occur. Without the option to obtain internet on crop lands, machinery could stop working.
Similarly, internet is needed in everyday life for rural Mississippians. Internet can open a world of opportunities. Children could be homeschooled instead of traveling a long distance to the nearest school. Business owners can communicate with customers and obtain online materials, which could help to manage and grow their business.
Also, there is the obvious reason of having an unlimited amount of resources on any subject at the click of a button. There are many reasons to have residential internet, but consumers and co-ops must make the decision of whether they truly want it.
Even though this is a wonderful opportunity to those in rural areas, it is still an idea. John Turner, the manager of Public Relations and Marketing for 4-County Electric Co-op, said getting internet cables to their customers will take a huge amount of time and money.
Turner says it will cost around $120 million to fully deploy 6,000 miles of fiber optic cables across all or parts of Clay, Noxubee, Lowndes, Oktibbeha, Choctaw, Chickasaw, Webster and Monroe counties. 4-County was not pushing this bill for this reason.
“Maybe we will get into the business or maybe we won’t,” Turner stated. “We have to figure out how to not go ‘belly-up’ trying to install this. We may not be the solution, but we want to be part of the solution.”
Turner says if they do decide to provide internet, it could take anywhere between five to seven years. 4-County wants to provide internet because of the need of this recently-discovered resource.
“Broadband is a need and we want to do everything we can to bring high speed internet to our service territory,” Turner said.
When all residents have the access to broadband internet, it will positively impact the MSU Extension Office. Loper is for the new legislature.
“Anything that can be done to potentially increase the availability of broadband to rural Mississippi is a great thing, and I’m all for it,” Loper said.
The MSU Extension Office provides the community with informational classes on subjects like agriculture and natural resources, and family and consumer sciences based off research the school has conducted. Loper described this as non-formal teaching.
“One of the ways that we have to disseminate information is through online learning,” Loper said. “It is very important for us to be able to disseminate educational materials to the people in our state through internet technologies. We need those people to have internet, so we can disseminate that information to them.”
Public Service Commissioner Brandon Presley has pushed for this bill to pass.
“By passing this legislation, our state has an opportunity to move forward in a real way,” Presley stated. “This will help improve the lives of people across Mississippi in many ways—from education to medicine to economic development and beyond.”