BEAM us up some good internet
Published 9:53 am Sunday, December 18, 2022
Sally Doty, the director of the Office of Broadband Expansion and Accessibility of Mississippi, and her BEAM team were in Brookhaven this week to discuss expanding internet coverage in Southwest Mississippi.
Approximately two dozen members of the Lincoln County community attended the meeting at the Brookhaven-Lincoln County Chamber of Commerce Tuesday morning, including city officials, business owners and managers, tech professionals and private residents.
“Southwest Mississippi is one of the most ‘un-served’ and underserved areas of our state,” Doty said. “Compiling data through the website will go straight to a broadband map we’re creating for the state, which we will then use to challenge the FCC map.”
Doty’s office has launched a new website to create an updated map of coverage in the state.
The website — https://broadbandms.com/ — will gather information about internet usage and availability. The collected data will allow BEAM to create a unique and continually updated Mississippi Broadband Map, critical for expanding broadband infrastructure in the state.
The Federal Communications Commission unveiled a new broadband map on Nov. 18.
“Because it includes satellite providers, it shows Mississippi as 100 percent covered. But we know that’s not accurate,” Doty said. “It’s the first draft, so we knew it would have some problems with it.”
That map is available at https://broadbandmap.fcc.gov.
The BEAM office must submit any initial challenge by Jan. 13, 2023. Doty said it’s a pretty quick turnaround time, especially considering the holiday season, but her office is prepared.
“We have been waiting on this map, expecting it. My office has been gathering data to challenge it already. This crowd-sourced input from the new website will help us collect accurate data,” she said.
The goal is to have about 100,000 visitors to the site before Jan. 1. Visitors should access the site from their home or other location where they would desire personal broadband coverage.
“Visit it more than once — about once a day for a week — so we get a true picture of the speeds and service you get,” Doty said. “When you go to the website, it runs three tests automatically. It does not collect any personal data. It’s great to visit at different times of the day. It’s different in the middle of the day when people are at work and kids are at school, versus in the evenings when people are playing games, downloading or streaming videos.”
The Mississippi map on the site will be updated repeatedly as new data is gathered.
New mapping will not be based solely upon empirical data, however. Multiple factors will be considered, such as types of devices used to access the internet, time of day access is made, how many physical addresses within one mile are covered, and whether internet service is available only through satellite providers.
The long-range plan will take time to implement, Doty said, due to multiple considerations at the federal and state levels, and as private contractors submit plans for coverage.
Low-income families should also be aware of the Affordable Connectivity Program, Doty said.
“Anyone who qualifies already for SNAP, free or reduced school lunches, Medicaid, etc., can qualify. It’s a $30-per-month benefit to go toward broadband service,” she said. “It’s handled through your provider, so you have to contact your provider. A lot of them have low-cost options already, so someone who is already low-income may not have to pay anything to have access.”
Anyone in Mississippi who lacks adequate internet access should visit www.broadbandms.com, or call 601-439-2535 to report a location with no service. For no service, the word “internet” can also be texted to the same number.