Presley: Some rural electric cooperatives jumping into the internet business at high speeds

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Mississippi Today

Brandon Presley, chairman of the Mississippi Public Service Commission, During the 2019 session, Presley will advocate for legislation to authorize the rural power cooperatives, which are owned by their customers and provide electricity to many, particularly rural areas of the state, to offer high speed internet services.

Northern District Public Service Commissioner Brandon Presley said four of the state’s 25 rural electric power cooperatives are beginning the process of installing fiber optic cables to offer high speed internet to some of their customers.

Speaking Monday to the Mississippi State University Stennis Institute of Government’s Capitol press corps luncheon, Presley, a Nettleton Democrat repeated his argument that bringing high speed internet to rural Mississippi is crucial to the state’s prosperity.

Presley, who chairs the three-member Public Service Committee, which regulates many of the state’s utilities, had a message for candidates running this November.

“Please do not run for office and tell us you care about people of rural Mississippi if you do not have a plan to do something for the people of rural Mississippi,” said Presley who is unopposed in his re-election bid this November. “Either stand up and tell the truth that you don’t care and the last ones in our rural counties shut the lights off or let’s do something about it. Let’s continue to innovate and let’s continue to push.”

This past legislative session Presley helped lead an effort to charge state law to allow the rural electric powers cooperatives, which are customer-owned, to offer high speed internet.

“I would never believe that just over six months from the governor signing that bill that we would have four announcements” of rural electric power associations, “getting the ball rolling,” Presley said.

He said the Tallahatchie Valley, which serves the north Delta area; and the Tombigbee, Alcorn County and Prentiss County electric power associations, all located in northeast Mississippi, have announced they intend to start running broadband lines. He said Prentiss County would begin hiring contractors in the next two weeks to install the fiber optic cables.

Many of the same rural electric power associations in northeast Mississippi that led the way to bring electricity to rural America in the 1930s and 40s are leading the way on installing broadband or high speed internet in rural areas, Presley said.

R.L. Nave

Power lines in Mississippi

He said people in Alcorn County, where Corinth is located, created the first rural electric association in the early 1930s. Other counties in the region soon followed suit and provided the framework that President Franklin Roosevelt used nationwide.

“He called it the Corinth experiment,” Presley said. He said Mississippi is 49th nationwide in terms of providing high speed internet service that is needed for students to be educated and for businesses to create commerce.

As he often does, Presley equated the need for high speed internet in the rural areas with the need for electricity the 1930s.

“I firmly believe that very few times in life and in our lives and in the history of men are you able to stand at the same intersection of history as your forefathers,” Presley said. “And  we are there. No question about it — we are there. The question today is will we do something about it? I think we are working hard to do that.”

He said his goal was that “every house, every dirt road, every rural community at the very end of the line has the same level of service as someone living in our biggest cities.”

There is no plan to ask for state funds to help with the effort to install high speed internet, but Presley said he expects the rural electric cooperatives would pursue the same federal funds that are available for commercial providers. He said in some cases the rural electric power associations can go into areas that commercial providers cannot because they are not profit driven.

Presley said he believes one reason the state has lost population three of the last four years is due to lack of high speed internet in many rural areas.

Under state law, the rural electric power associations must do feasibility studies before offering the service and the law does not prevent private providers from offering the same services.