JACKSON, MS (WDAM) - Legislation that would expand broadband access to rural Mississippians will head to the Senate after being passed by the Mississippi House of Representatives.
House Bill 366, also referred to as the Mississippi Broadband Enabling Act, overwhelmingly passed the House by a vote of 115-3. The bill would allow electric cooperatives in the state to offer high-speed internet service to its customers, according to the Mississippi Public Service Commission.
“This is a historic step to help the citizens of Mississippi. The House has worked in a bipartisan way to change the law and that change will help shape the future of our state for generations to come,” said Commissioner Brandon Presley in a news release. “I want to particularly thank Speaker Gunn, Chairman Beckett, and the entire membership of the House of Representatives for getting this passed.”
Current state laws prohibit rural electric cooperatives from providing internet services, though no such law exists in any other state, according to the MPSC. The Commission said there are 107 rural electric cooperatives across the country providing internet service, including all states bordering Mississippi.
If the bill passes, it could potentially help thousands of Mississippians like Troy Breland, who lives in a rural area near Perry County and said that the internet doesn’t exist to him and his family.
“We have a computer, we have all the stuff we would need, a printer and everything to hook up and use and very convenient for us, but we can’t even use it because we don’t have internet," Breland said.
Breland also said that his family uses their cellular devices most of the time, but still the access to the internet is limited.
“I think its a good idea because right now one company controls everything that has to do with the internet,” Breland said.
We spoke with general manager Dixie Electric Power Association, Randy Smith, and he said that if the bill is passes in the Senate, Dixie Electric will look into adding a broadband system.
“We want our members to be aware that it's an expensive process and a long process,” said Smith.
“The last thing we would want to do is get into a venture that would jeopardize the company’s ability to provide service to the electric companies, which is what we were created for,” Smith added.