On Wednesday, Gov. Tate Reeves signed the Broadband Expansion and Accessibility of Mississippi Act into law. The act created the Office of Broadband Expansion and Accessibility within the state Department of Finance and Administration to oversee allocation of millions in state and federal funds to develop and enhance broadband internet access across the state.
“The importance of this institution is immense and the role it will play in Mississippi is profound,” Gov. Reeves said.
Among the 50 states and the District of Columbia, Mississippi ranks 48th worst for internet coverage, speed and price access, according to the research group BroadbandNow.
“We recognize that to best prepare our residents for the jobs of the next 50 years, we need to ensure that every Mississippian has access to the full breadth of benefits technology has to offer,” said Reeves. “This new office is a strategic move that will give us a centralized, coordinated, and streamlined approach to bring a variety of programs and efforts together under one roof. It will help to ensure accountability and transparency over the range of efforts and money that is being invested into Mississippi’s broadband infrastructure.”
Former state senator and current Public Utilities Staff Director Sally Doty has been appointed to lead the new BEAM office. At the signing, Doty spoke about the impact that internet accessibility will bring such as better health outcomes with access to telehealth providers, more educational opportunities for students, increased potential for remote work and more Mississippians able to participate in ecommerce.
“All of these opportunities depend on connectivity in today’s world,” Doty said.
“Gov. Reeves and I share the same intention for everyone in Mississippi to have high-speed connectivity just as quickly as possible,” Doty said. “My team will work diligently to establish a plan to reach unserved areas and to leverage federal funds to reach under served areas across the state at speeds that will allow all Mississippians to participate in this digital economy that we are a part of now.”
The new BEAM office will take applications from internet service providers and disburse $162 million in federal American Recovery and Reinvestment Act dollars to expand broadband coverage throughout the state. Mississippi also is expected to receive from $500 million to $1.1 billion for broadband expansion from the infrastructure bill Congress passed late last year. This is in addition to the $495 million received from the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund and the $75 million allocated from the first round of pandemic relief funds Mississippi received.
Doty has already been working to oversee broadband expansion work in Mississippi in her role as Public Utilities Staff Director and says that most of the money awarded thus far has gone to rural electric cooperatives and small local phone companies that have already laid thousands of miles of fiber optics and hooked up thousands of households.
“We know that while these funds will help a lot of people, we still have tens of thousands of homes to get to, and areas that may have some connection, but are really underserved,” Northern District Public Service Commissioner Brandon Presley told Mississippi Today.
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