Counties across the state are signing resolutions in favor of what one local supervisor calls a “game changer” — allowing electric cooperatives to provide high-speed broadband internet.
Lowndes and Oktibbeha counties approved resolutions in support of the change, which the Public Service Commission is pushing. Brandon Presley, commissioner for the PSC’s northern district, said he hopes the resolutions will help spur the state Legislature to change an old law that restricts rural cooperatives to only providing electricity.
“Electric cooperatives bringing broadband service is happening in 107 cooperatives around the country and in every state bordering Mississippi, but it’s not happening here,” Presley said.
So far, Presley said, 27 counties and 57 cities across Mississippi have passed resolutions supporting the change. He said the effort has also garnered support from the Mississippi Farm Bureau, the Mississippi Association of Realtors and the American Association of Retired Persons.
Should the law change, Presley said, cooperatives like 4-County Electric Power Association could provide high-speed broadband services to rural areas.
Presley said the law change would require no funding from the state. He added that it would allow cooperatives to decide if they want to provide service, rather than mandating it.
Still, Presley said he looks at high-speed broadband internet service as a crucial piece of life in an increasingly connected world.
“It’s gone from being a luxury to a necessity,” Presley said. “There’s no way for rural people to be able to participate in the modern economy without being connected to the internet. I believe every Mississippian should have access to internet service.”
Oktibbeha County Board of Supervisors President Orlando Trainer said he hopes cooperatives will be receptive to possibly offering service.
“I think it will enhance the quality of life in the county many, many times over,” Trainer said. “Getting individuals access to reasonable internet service will do nothing but bring positive results to the county. I think it’s definitely a game changer.”
Harry Sander, president of the Lowndes County Board of supervisors, said he thinks cooperatives make sense as providers, since they already have some of the needed infrastructure in place.
“The main reason we did that is so there can be internet service to rural areas of the county,” Sanders said. “The utilities already have the poles and everything already there and it’s the easiest way to provide internet to rural areas.”
Jon Turner, manager of public relations and marketing, said the cooperative has been eyeing the possibility of providing internet service, in the event the Legislature changes the law. However, he said 4-County hasn’t reached a decision.
“We understand the role that internet access plays in everyday life now,” Turner said. “We’re in the middle of a feasibility study to find out what broadband might look like for us and the costs and what that might entail.”
4-County provides electric service to Clay, Lowndes, Noxubee and Oktibbeha counties, as well as portions of Choctaw, Chickasaw, Monroe and Webster counties.
Turner said 4-County isn’t sure it needs to be an internet service provider itself. But, he said it’s also considering working with existing internet service providers in a partnership to offer service.
“That is part of what we’re looking at now,” he said. “Are there partners that make sense or things that make it easier to get out and serve our members? At the end of the day, that’s what we want. We want people in our area to have access to high-speed broadband, whether or not we’re the ones that bring it to them.”
Alex Holloway was formerly a reporter with The Dispatch.