BEAM Mississippi Up With Broadband
Wednesday, June 21, 2023
BEAM Mississippi Up With Broadband
"One’s zip code shouldn’t determine their access to the full range of benefits technology has to offer."— Governor Tate Reeves (R-MS)
When it comes to wiring Mississippi, the state is betting on co-ops and small telecommunications companies.
In 2019, then-Lieutenant Governor Tate Reeves (R-MS) worked with House Speaker Philip Gunn (R-MS) to pass the Mississippi Broadband Enabling Act, which allowed the state’s electric cooperatives to offer affordable broadband to rural areas. At the time, proponents said large cable and telecommunications companies were failing to expand service into rural areas because it wasn’t profitable enough.
In his first Mississippi State of the State Address as governor, Tate reiterated his commitment to universal broadband, saying, "[W]e cannot forget the next great generational infrastructure issue: internet access. We must continue to find innovative ways to allow all of Mississippi to connect. No one should be left behind."
In 2022, Gov. Reeves signed the Broadband Expansion and Accessibility of Mississippi Act, creating the Office of Broadband Expansion and Accessibility of Mississippi (BEAM) to coordinate and streamline broadband policy in the state. Located within the Department of Finance and Administration, BEAM administers federal grant programs to provide broadband service in unserved and underserved areas. Sally Doty—the Executive Director of the Mississippi Public Utilities Staff and a former State Senator from Brookhaven—was named the first director of BEAM.
“We want to allow all Mississippians to participate in the digital economy we are all part of now,” Doty said. She said Mississippians need access to telehealth, higher education, remote working, and other online opportunities to compete, and “all of these opportunities depend on connectivity in today’s world.”
The Digital Divide in Mississippi
BEAM estimates that of the 1,347,056 broadband serviceable locations in the state, 347,267 (over 27 percent) are unserved—meaning they have no access to broadband service at all or with access to networks offering speeds below 25 Megabits per second (Mbps) download and 3 Mbps upload—and 569,308 (42 percent) are underserved—meaning without broadband service offering speeds of 100/20 Mbps or higher.
Covington County leads the way with the most unserved and underserved locations (at a whopping 96.2 percent of 11,094 locations) followed by Marion County (81 percent of 15,307 locations), Simpson County (94.4 percent of 14,797 locations), Hinds County (45.7 percent of 96,692 locations, and Lamar County (47 percent of 27,117 locations).
Overall, just less than 80 percent of households in Mississippi have an internet subscription.
Federal Funding for Mississippi Broadband
Broadband Infrastructure Program
In early 2022, the U.S. Department's National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) awarded the State of Mississippi over $32.5 million for ten unique broadband deployment projects across ten counties in rural areas including Smith, Calhoun, Issaquena, Madison, Covington, Lincoln, Benton, Pontotoc, and Coahoma Counties. Cumulatively, the 10 projects intend to construct 602 new fiber miles and to directly connect 12,487 unserved households with up to 1 Gbps symmetrical service. This project will also connect 256 businesses and approximately 26 community anchor institutions.
Eight broadband providers are part of this public-private partnership:
- Bay Springs Telephone (a subsidiary of Telephone Electronics Corporation),
- Bruce Telephone ( a subsidiary of Fail Telecommunications Corporation),
- C Spire (formerly known as Cellular South),
- CableSouth Media (aka SwyftFibe),
- Franklin Telephone,
- MaxxSouth (a division of Block Communications working with local electric cooperatives),
- Uplink (a wireless internet provider), and
- WeConnect Communications (also a subsidiary of Fail Telecommunications Corporation).
Tribal Broadband Connectivity Program
The Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians won an $8.4 million award from the NTIA to install fiber to directly connect 2,190 unserved Native American households, 86 businesses, and 60 community anchor institutions with fiber-to-the-home 105 Mbps/105 Mbps service. The Tribal Broadband Connectivity Program grant will support the construction of a 12.3-mile middle-mile fiber network and a 524-mile last-mile network. The Tribe will own 162 miles of the new fiber and lease 362 miles from MaxxSouth Broadband, which will construct the network.
Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act
In November 2022, NTIA awarded Mississippi its first “Internet for All” grants for deploying high-speed internet networks and developing digital skills training programs under the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. Mississippi received $5,875,585.61 to plan for the deployment and adoption of affordable, equitable, and reliable high-speed internet service throughout the state. From the Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) Program Mississippi received $5 million to fund various activities including:
- Development of a 5-year action plan to close the broadband availability gap;
- Identification of unserved and underserved locations;
- Efforts to support local coordination including outreach across the state to stakeholders;
- Planning and capacity building of the state’s broadband office;
- Asset mapping across Mississippi to catalog high-speed internet service adoption, affordability, equity, access, and deployment;
- Conducting surveys of communities to better understand barriers to internet service adoption;
- Developing a precise assessment of the actual barriers state residents face that block them from internet service adoption; and
- Creating easily understandable written and digital material to engage with those who are unserved or underserved.
Mississippi will share its 5-year action plan by the end of August 2023.
Mississippi also received $875,585.61 to fund various digital equity activities including:
- Development of a statewide digital equity plan to close the digital equity gap;
- Development of the digital skills and accessibility team;
- Engage with local community members and stakeholders; and
- Award subgrants for conducting digital inclusion asset mapping.
Mississippi will release a statewide digital equity plan by the end of November 2023.
Capital Projects Fund
The U.S. Treasury's Capital Projects Fund, established by Congress in the American Rescue Act of 2021, provides support for critical capital projects that enable work, education, and health monitoring in response to the public health emergency. Capital Projects Fund support helps to ensure that all communities have access to the high-quality modern infrastructure, including broadband, needed to access critical services.
Mississippi opted to use $151.5 (93 percent) of its Capital Projects Fund allocation for broadband infrastructure. BEAM will direct a new competitive grant program designed to fund three types of broadband investments: 1) large-scale projects, 2) line extensions, and 3) community-based broadband projects. [If approved at a later date, Mississippi will also support projects installed as part of public Wi-Fi infrastructure.]
The program will prioritize last-mile fiber applicants for large-scale and line extension projects and will prioritize high-speed, reliable internet to downtown commercial areas for community-based broadband projects. Supported networks will be designed to provide internet service with speeds of 100/100 Mbps upon project completion.
Mississippi estimates that investments made using the Capital Projects Fund will serve approximately 43,300 (9 percent) locations in the state that lack high-speed internet access.
To address affordability, operators of the supported networks will participate in the Federal Communications Commission's Affordable Connectivity Program which provides a $30/month discount on monthly broadband subscriptions for eligible, low-income households.
On June 15, BEAM opened an application portal for program applications. BEAM expects to make awards of $100,000 to $5 million and awardees will have to provide matching funds of at least 20 percent. Entities eligible to apply for a grant must be a company, firm, corporation, limited liability company, partnership, or association authorized to do business in Mississippi that:
- has been providing broadband service to at least one hundred residences and businesses in Mississippi for at least three consecutive years,
- is an electric power association’s broadband affiliate, or
- has demonstrated financial, technical, and operational capability in building and operating a broadband network.
Networks must be operational by December 31, 2026.
The Benton Institute for Broadband & Society is a non-profit organization dedicated to ensuring that all people in the U.S. have access to competitive, High-Performance Broadband regardless of where they live or who they are. We believe communication policy - rooted in the values of access, equity, and diversity - has the power to deliver new opportunities and strengthen communities.
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