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Commissioner Calls Broadband Statewide Top Priority

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Commissioner Calls Broadband Statewide Top Priority
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Public Service Commissioner Brandon Presley
Desare Frazier

A Mississippi public service commissioner is aggressively promoting expanding broadband statewide. As MPB's Desare Frazier reports, he says it's a necessity to make the state competitive.

Public Service Commissioner Brandon Presley says broadband is a necessity, not an option, and rural Mississippians are being left behind. He says he sees children doing their homework at fast food restaurants where the internet is available. Presley says it's also needed for economic development.

"Imagine today, we're trying to recruit an industry and we ask somebody from Baltimore, Maryland to come look at our community. The first thing they find out is they can't connect to internet service. There is no ability to have an Apple TV. There is no ability to watch Hulu. But they also have no ability for their kids to take online classes. What do they think about your community when you do not have the basic technology of today."

Presley discussed the issue at a press luncheon. A law passed this year allows electric cooperatives to offer broadband service. But it's expensive. Kevin Doddridge with the the Northcentral Electric Power Association in Olive Branch, says it would cost them $75 million.

"It is somewhat feasible but as we start the project we have to see how some of the current providers will react and whether they'll start building their fiber system out maybe at a quicker pace than we do. Who maybe in those unincorporated urban areas would take our service and those in the rural areas.

Doddridge says federal grants are available. Commissioner Presley says this month four coops announced plans to provide broadband including Tombigbee Electric Power in Tupelo and Prentiss Electric Power in Booneville. The process could take five or more years to complete.

Presley is calling on the candidates for governor to make broadband to rural areas a campaign goal.