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Rural internet act needed in Mississippi

The Mississippi Broadband Enabling Act currently making its way through the Legislature is much-needed if rural residents of the state have any hope of affordable, high-speed internet.

The act would allow electric cooperatives in the state to offer the service, something state law currently does not allow.

High-speed internet is necessary for so many things, and it’s often taken for granted. But in rural Mississippi, including here in Lincoln County, there are few options for high-speed internet. In some placed, satellite internet is the only option.

The bill creating the act made its way through the House and is now in the Senate where it will be debated. Lincoln County’s delegation has pledged to support it, and both local House members voted in favor of it Tuesday.

But creating the act will only allow cooperatives to offer the service, it won’t guarantee that they will.

The proposal requires a feasibility study and an annual audit and does allow cooperatives to invest money, loan money or guarantee loans to their affiliates. Cooperatives could apply for hundreds of millions in grants and loans offered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to finance rural broadband if the measure passes.

Providing high-speed internet will not be cheap, and some co-ops may simply decide it’s not feasible to offer the service.

Sen. Sally Doty said only “three or four” of the state’s co-ops are willing to develop the infrastructure needed to offer broadband services right away.

“Once those three or four get up and running, I think the others will follow suit — but this isn’t a situation where it goes into law July 1 and you have internet Aug. 1,” she said. “It is so expensive, it will have to be done in phases. It’s going to take some time.”

We are hopeful the Senate approves the measure and it makes it to the governor’s desk for a signature. After that, it will be up to the co-ops to determine if they can offer the service. But lawmakers are smart to get government out of the way so rural Mississippians have a shot at connecting to the rest of the world.