Rural Mississippi deserves high-speed internet

By TOM MILES,

If you are one of the thousands of Mississippians who don’t have access to high-speed internet at your home or office, I think we got some good news for you last week.

 Several of my legislative colleagues and I have been discussing this issue for the past few sessions, and we believe we are now looking at a solution for rural Mississippians who want to enjoy the benefits of reliable, high-speed internet service – no matter where they live.

On November 14, I was happy to be invited to a broadband forum in Jackson, sponsored by the Electric Cooperatives of Mississippi.

 As those of us who live in the country know, many of our families are provided electricity through the vast networks provided by local electric coops. In other words, the infrastructure exists for something like a wireless, internet system to be installed.

The problem is that state law currently prohibits the electric coops from providing any kind of service other than straight electricity. No doubt, whoever wrote that didn’t envision the fact that in the 21st Century, much of our lives and livelihoods depend upon computers and the internet. Consequently, today a large swath of our citizens simply cannot enjoy the benefits provided by reliable high-speed internet.

We hope to have this problem solved early in the 2019 legislative session. A number of us will be sponsoring legislation that will lift this outdated restriction from our electric coops. It only makes common sense.

We are encouraged that our Public Service Commissioners are also well on board with this change. It is a bi-partisan effort that will surely receive broad support in the Legislature. It is also endorsed by the Farm Bureau, The Realtors, and even AARP. Those folks know their members and clients need this service.

One of the good things about doing this, is that it won’t cost taxpayers a dime.  Those Cooperatives that wish to offer the service to their customers will simply have the opportunity to do so. There will be no mandate.

We know that Mississippi is battling a so-called “brain drain,” some of which is due to the fact that young people expect to be able to use the internet whenever they need it. Our local communities are also struggling to keep their young people at home and contributing to their hometowns.

It is clear that the time has come to do what we can to help our rural communities thrive and give our young people the tools they need to stay close to their friends and family while they help grow their local economy.

The passage of this bill will ensure that the over 800,000 Mississippians who currently don’t have reliable and usable internet access will be provided that service in the near future.