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Get me out of the digital dark

As a rural Mississippian, I read with great interest the opinion piece by Brandon Presley Friday. The Public Service Commission chairman logically and passionately argued that rural residents of this state deserve the same internet access as those in the big cities.

I could not agree more.

“Internet service has become a necessity for modern life, but far too many Mississippians live in the ‘digital dark,’ lacking access to affordable, reliable internet service. Because they lack internet service, many of our people cannot compete for jobs, take online courses, access telehealth services or even simply browse the internet,” he wrote.

Presley is correct. Residents living closer to cities where internet is readily available don’t understand the burden many of us rural folks face. The internet at my home near Loyd Star is stuck in the 90s.

Believe it or not, dial-up service is still available there. And that’s it, unless you count satellite internet. Many of you reading this likely have better internet access at your deer camp  — or even in your car — than I do at home.

Why does this matter, you might ask. It’s just the internet after all. But for many people, it’s not just shopping and streaming and playing games online — it’s their access to the rest of the world. It’s their gateway to everything that the internet promised to bring us — access to unlimited knowledge, telehealth, staying connected with family and friends, education opportunities, job opportunities, etc.

For many millennnials, lack of affordable, high-speed internet is a deal-breaker.

If I had known high-speed internet was not available at my address, I likely would have found a home closer to town. But it never crossed my mind that internet would not be available in some parts of Lincoln County. And I’m not alone.

“Young people will not stay in a place where they are unplugged from the rest of the world because they lack internet service. If you doubt this is an issue, drive by your local fast food restaurant and take a look at people sitting in their cars doing homework using wireless internet provided by the business. The lack of affordable, reliable and adequate internet service in Mississippi is a crisis and is one that we had better fix, if we want our children and grandchildren to stay here,” Presley wrote.

Presley’s solution is to let electric cooperatives provide affordable, high-speed internet service. They are allowed to do that in neighboring states, but it’s not as simple as it sounds in Mississippi. Currently there is a state law that prevents co-ops from offering internet.

There is a legislative effort to undo that state law. The Mississippi Broadband Enabling Act will hopefully make it to a vote in the 2019 legislative session. I hope our local lawmakers can appreciate the need for this act, and will do their best to advance it into law.

It should be obvious by now that private businesses will not make the investment needed to provide this service.

Presley says it’s time to bring high-speed internet service to every “dirt and dusty road in Mississippi.” I couldn’t agree more. Mt. Zion Road is just one of many roads in the area that need to be brought out of the “digital dark.”

Email publisher Luke Horton at luke.horton@dailyleader.com