How far will current funding get Mississippi in the broadband build out?

Published: Sep. 11, 2023 at 7:31 PM CDT
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JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - If you’re one of the thousands of Mississippians still struggling to connect to high-speed internet, here’s some information for you. The latest federal grant is expected to get the state closer to its goals of getting you connected.

”A five-year plan that we should be sending off in the next week or so,” explained Sally Doty, Director of the Office of Broadband Expansion and Accessibility of Mississippi.

The BEAM office estimates there are 171,000 locations still unserved with no federal funding already attached. But Mississippi’s rural geography means the price tag to try and get the gold-standard fiber to everyone isn’t always feasible.

“For instance, we have consultants who are assisting us with data modeling, and there was one particular county, I can’t remember off the top of my head, one particular county had three locations, each of those locations cost $300,000 to reach,” noted Doty. “Now, that is an extremely high-cost location.”

In comparison, it usually takes around $5,000 dollars to run fiber lines to a location. For those high-price spots, they’ll ask companies to look to alternatives.

“Instead of fiber, it might be more appropriate to have fixed wireless,” added Doty. “It might be more appropriate to assist them with satellite coverage.”

The good news is that with the combination of all the funding streams and their timelines, most, if not all, of those unserved locations should get service by 2028.

“So, we’re all on this kind of four-year track moving forward,” said Doty.

The companies receiving the grant funding have an added check and balance with the Public Service Commission. Central District Commissioner Brent Bailey says they’re required to be certified every year as an eligible telecommunication carrier.

“This is an opportunity for us to have little visibility into what their plans are,” said Bailey. “While we don’t have the authority to amend their plans, it does give us the opportunity to continue to understand how they’re proposing to spend those federal dollars, taxpayer money, and they’re doing it in an appropriate way that benefits the majority of Mississippians.”

Another piece that the broadband office is working on involves partnering with non-profits to create plans and offer funding for better educating the public on digital skills. They say that is another important piece of closing the digital divide.

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