The Starkville Board of Aldermen will consider joining over 20 other cities in Mississippi by passing a resolution during the next board meeting on Dec. 18. The resolution would endorse a bill allowing electric cooperatives to provide internet services in Mississippi.
Northern District Commissioner Brandon Presley thinks Mississippi is currently in an “internet crisis.”
“We have so many areas that lack internet service,” Presley said. “We have so many places in our state that are being held back because they can’t compete for jobs, take online courses or just participate in basic modern life.”
Mississippi’s electric co-op law, which Presley calls a “horse and buggy law,” is one that limits Mississippi’s internet service. Specifically, Section 77-5-205 of Mississippi Code prohibits electric power companies from selling anything other than electricity.
“Currently, the state of Mississippi is the only state in America— that I’m aware of— that prohibits rural electric co-ops to provide internet services if they want to do that,” Presley said. “Because of that, those electric cooperatives that are interested in providing broadband service, and we have several in the state that are, they can’t even make that decision or look into it because of the way the law is.”
Presley said at least 20 cities across Mississippi have already submitted resolutions supporting an effort to change the law.
“We’ve not gotten them all in but we’ve gotten them from Greenwood to Saltillo to Rolling Fork to Yazoo City,” Presley said. “We’ve gotten many cities that have endorsed the concept and the city of Starkville expressed interest.”
Presley said the resolutions highlight the internet issue in Mississippi and support the electric co-op bill as one possible solution to the issue. Presley plans to bring the resolutions before legislature’s January session.
“There will be legislation in January…to change the law to allow cooperatives to bring internet service,” Presley said. “(We’re) trying to get that law changed so that we can allow the rural electric power associations that want to provide internet services to do it.”
“But right now they can’t make any decision because of this horse and buggy law that was passed in 1942 when nobody ever dreamed of there ever being anything called the internet,” Presley added.
Presley said the bill under consideration would be beneficial for two main reasons.
“Number one, it is not any type of request for money,” Presley said. “This bill is not requesting one dime of taxpayer money for anything.”
Secondly, Presley said the bill would not create a mandate.
“It is not a mandate for any electric co-op to go into the internet business. It simply just allows those who want to do it to do that and it’s just very simple,” Presley said.
“This is a bill that’s a door opener and not a gatekeeper,” Presley added. “It just opens the door for rural Mississippi to get (internet) service.”
Presley said Mississippi’s current internet service, especially in rural areas, is “unacceptable.”
“Right now, rural Mississippi is left with no options,” Presley said. “Many areas are just not served and many of the internet providers will tell people that they’re not going to serve their area and that’s just simply not acceptable in 2018 in the modern economy.”
If the bill is accepted, Presley thinks the change would be one step in the right direction.
“At that point, the electric cooperatives can begin that economic analysis to see whether or not this is something that will work for their particular co-op,” Presley said. “This is one possibility of getting that problem at least worked on and getting at least one solution on the table.”
Mayor Lynn Spruill thinks the potential law change could bene t the Starkville community.
“I believe there are still areas in Starkville that could bene t from enhanced internet service opportunities through the use of electric power association collaboration,” Spruill said. “The internet is clearly critical to daily functioning for both home and business purposes.”
“For us to reach our potential in this state we need to explore all options for success and this is one of them,” Spruill concluded. “I applaud Commissioner Presley for his foresight on this matter.”
Presley released Thursday that 39 cities in Mississippi have now passed resolutions supporting the bill.