US Senator Roger Wicker says a new broadband communications network will help Mississippi firefighters, police and other responders communicate better during emergencies. MPB's Ezra Wall reports.
The First Responders Network Authority - known as FirstNet - is an emergency broadband communications network authorized by Congress in 2012. Senator Roger Wicker says the idea grew out of frustration during emergencies like 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina when relief workers had trouble communicating with each other.
"They couldn't talk to each other, and that was a grave problem in saving lives and racing against the clock," said Wicker.
Wicker says when the network is complete, it will help first responders save lives and protect communities.
Broadband access is an important issue in Mississippi, not just for emergency workers. According to Mississippi State University, Mississippi has the worst high-speed internet access in the country. One out of every three people in the state couldn't access high-speed internet, even if they wanted to, and that includes emergency personnel.
Roberto Gallardo is with the MSU Extension Service. He says too many rural Mississippians may miss out on opportunities because they lack broadband access.
"The digital age is in full swing. Those that are on the wrong side of the divide are being left further and further behind," said Gallardo. "Now, it's very rare that you can apply for a job the old way. Now, it's more than likely they'll ask you to go to a website. And if your connection is buffering or you cannot get online, then of course you're out of that option."
The government's emergency network, FirstNet, has partnered with AT&T to build the nationwide infrastructure. The company has already expanded wireless broadband access to 15 Mississippi counties with money from the FCC's Connect America Fund.