Mississippi will receive $1.2 billion in federal money to expand high-speed internet, President Joe Biden announced Monday.
The state’s share of the money — part of $42 billion in spending to expand access nationwide — is part of the $1.2 trillion Infrastructure and Jobs Act, passed by Congress in 2021.
The announcement of funding through the federal Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment funding came in a press conference at the White House on Monday. Biden likened the efforts to expand broadband access nationwide by 2030 to work to provide electricity to rural America in the 1930s.
Sally Doty, director of the Mississippi office of Broadband Expansion and Accessibility of Mississippi, was at the White House on Monday for the announcement.
“The amount is in the range I expected,” Doty said. “It was driven by the large number of high cost (of providing access) areas in the state. The BEAM office is working through all the numerous requirements to get the money out as fast as we can … We know this funding will be transformational for so many Mississippians and their communities.”
The award was based on the number of homes and businesses lacking high-speed internet and estimated costs of expanding it. Mississippi has an estimated 300,000 unserved and 200,000 underserved homes and businesses. BEAM was created to administer Mississippi’s broadband expansion through a competitive grant program. It will now submit a five-year action plan for the federal funding in late summer.
“Thanks to President Biden’s Investing in America agenda, we are working with Gov. (Tate) Reeves to close the digital divide so that everyone in Mississippi will be able to participate in the digital economy and realize the benefits of broadband access,” said national Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo.
Reeves in a statement on Monday said: “People want to live in areas where they can access broadband and that are connected. That’s why we’ll continue to aggressively build out broadband infrastructure to every region of our state, so all Mississippians can harness the opportunities technology provides them.”
U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker and U.S. Rep. Bennie Thompson were the only members of Mississippi’s congressional delegation to vote for the Infrastructure Act.
Thompson, in a statement, said: “I was the only congressman from Mississippi in the House of Representatives to cast a ballot in favor of the infrastructure spending package. I am proud to have taken a stand for the people of my state and to have been an advocate for responsible investment in our nation’s future. Broadband access is essential for our country’s progress, and this spending package is going to get us off the bottom and bring us forward into an era of greater technological advancement.”
Wicker said he was a key negotiator of the Infrastructure Act and “also worked for years as the lead Republican on the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee to ensure Mississippi’s lack of broadband coverage was accurately reflected in national coverage maps.” He said early versions of federal map incorrectly inflated Mississippi’s coverage.
“I am thrilled at this announcement and, and I will continue working with our leadership to ensure that every dollar is put to work connecting all corners of the state,” Wicker said.
Doty continues to urge Mississippians to contribute to the state broadband map at broadbandms.com, where people can take a speed test that will log lagging service into the map.
The Mississippi Center for Justice, a nonprofit public interest law firm, recently filed comments with the federal government over concerns that disadvantaged areas of the state — such as the Delta — might be overlooked as the state expands broadband service. MCJ requested better guidance to the state from the feds and better notification to unserved areas to ensure this doesn’t happen.
“BEAM has struggled to reach communities in the Mississippi Delta, a predominantly rural and Black region,” MCJ wroted. “The Delta’s barriers have resulted in low engagement with the mapping tool (which has) caused Delta communities’ broadband needs to be underrepresented in (maps).” The group called on federal leaders “to be cognizant of news deserts in rural and small communities when forming guidance of community-based notification.”
MCJ also noted that previous state grant programs expanding access were mostly concentrated in north Mississippi that, while rural, does not suffer the levels of poverty of the Delta.
But Doty said her office has concentrated efforts in the Delta.
“Either I or members of my staff have engaged in various meetings in the Delta over 20 times — including participating in a community engagement meeting at the MCJ office in Indianola,” Doty said. “Likewise, our mapping is detailed and much more accurate than the FCC maps, with the capability to update prior to awarding this BEAD funding.
“There are some real success stories in the Delta,” Doty said. “Uplink, a small local provider in Coahoma County, is building fiber out to any remaining unserved parts in the county. DE Lightspeed is the broadband subsidiary of Delta Electric and is doing an incredible job of building out fiber in their service area. DE has completed fiber projects in portions of Carroll, Holmes and Grenada counties. The BEAD funding will help companies like these reach the most difficult areas.”