Mississippi House to consider legislation to expand high speed internet in rural areas

JACKSON • As early as next week, the Mississippi House could take up legislation designed to at least try to expand access to high speed internet to the state’s underserved rural areas.

No bill has been filed yet, but House Public Utilities Chair Jim Beckett, R-Bruce, said bi-partisan work has been ongoing to develop legislation.

While Beckett said several options are being discussed, the legislation is likely to allow  not mandate – the state’s 25 customer-owned rural electric cooperatives, previously known as electric power associations, to offer broadband or high speed internet services.

The proposal has vast support across the state, according to a recent poll.

A poll by Chism Strategies, a Mississippi-based consulting company that primarily works for Democratic candidates, found that 83 percent of Mississippians favor allowing the electric cooperatives to offer the service while only 6 percent oppose.

The poll was conducted of 687 Mississippians – designed to match the demographic makeup of the state – earlier this month. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.74 percent.

“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,” Democratic Northern Public Service Commissioner Brandon Presley wrote last year. Presley has been one of the strongest advocates of allowing the electric cooperatives to offer the service and equates the issue with efforts of bringing electricity to rural areas in the 1930s.

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