Students appeal to Madison Co. board of supervisors for improved internet access

Students appeal to Madison Co. board of supervisors for improved internet access
(Source: Morgan Newell/WBTV)

MADISON CO., Miss. (WLBT) - Three students in Northeast Madison County are seeking the board of supervisors’ help in bringing broadband access to their area.

Students from three Northeast Madison schools spoke to the board Monday, where they discussed the difficulties of distance learning with poor internet service.

“The few services they offer in our area are either very terrible or unaffordable,” said Nicholas Jackson, a senior at Velma Jackson.

He said quality internet would be beneficial to the entire community, adding that “all families and students deserve a chance to succeed.”

Ashlan Thompson, a freshman at Canton Academy, a private school, had to get a hotspot to provide the needed capabilities but said at times it wouldn’t connect and let her go to class.

“As teenagers, we also like to stream videos, music, and movies, and sometimes that’s difficult.”

R.J. Jones, an eighth-grader at Shirley Simmons Middle School said he has to leave home and go to the library to have access to basic internet service.

“We live in a day of technology, but our homes are not (connected),” he said. “Give us the tools to connect to the world and sit back and watch us shine.”

Pollia Griffin, a member of the Madison County Schools board of education, said she experiences similar challenges when trying to conduct school business.

She added that schools have spent thousands of dollars to provide students with tablets, computers, and other devices, but said that students are unable to use them when they don’t have good internet.

“Schools are doing the best they can to provide quality education during the pandemic, but it’s difficult,” she said. “It’s not something you can fix on your own, but we’re appealing to you to get some of that (stimulus) money in Northeast Madison County.”

District 5 Supervisor Paul Griffin made several motions to address the broadband problem, including asking the county to seek proposals from two companies to expand service into the northeastern part of the county.

Under the measure, the county administrator will seek a proposal from TEC to run fiber in a roughly 285-square-mile swath of the county. Another firm, Ozborn Communications, will be asked to provide an estimate for providing radio internet there. The measure approved unanimously.

The board also approved resolutions permitting county officials to travel to Washington D.C., to seek federal assistance for expanding rural broadband, and to ask Canton Public Schools and Madison County Schools to use portions of their COVID-19 relief funds to help pay for expanding the service.

He said the county could also use a portion of its American Rescue Plan funds to help cover the expenses.

Prior to introducing those measures, Griffin commended the teens for speaking, saying that he’s been telling his fellow board members about the lack of internet access in the area for years.

“You’ve been hearing it from me … a whole lot this past year,” he said. “It was a good idea for them to come here today to let them tell you they are not able to … connect to the rest of the world.

“Madison County is one of the fastest-growing counties in the state of Mississippi,” he said. “I’m hoping that … when we get to talking about the money that is coming down from the federal government to the counties, the schools, and the state, we can keep these young people in mind.”

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