Tag: "mississippi"

Posted October 1, 2019 by lgonzalez

School districts in both urban and rural communities are taking steps to help students stay competitive as technology becomes an integral part of learning. As they develop laptop programs, school districts must also contend with the problem of unaffordable, unreliable, and slow Internet access at students’ homes. In Columbus, Mississippi, the local municipal electric utility is collaborating with the school district to bring Internet access to students after school hours.

One Missing Ingredient

Schools in Columbus, Mississippi, have been implementing technology as a standard learning component for the past several years, and have established a program to provide tablets and laptops for each high school student. As they continue to expand the program, they face a problem that other communities face when high-quality connectivity isn't widespread or affordable: many school kids in Columbus still don't have Internet access at home. In Columbus, affordability is the chief barrier. Without connectivity, one-to-one device programs can never achieve maximum success.

In October 2018, the Columbus Municipal School District (CMSD) approached Columbus Light and Water (CLW) and asked if the municipal utility could find a way to use its fiber infrastructure to extend the school’s Internet access beyond school facilities. CMSD wanted to allow students to connect past school hours. CLW general manager Todd Gale and CLW examined the possibilities and determined the project to be feasible.

logo-CLW-MS.png CLW will use its existing fiber optic infrastructure and add about two more miles of fiber to reach specific areas of the school district. When examining the addresses of students on a map, they discovered that many students live within close proximity to housing authority and public park locations. The utility has been able to identify five specific locations that will have the most impact as hotspots. Each hotspot should provide up to a one and one-half mile radius of fixed wireless access.

"We chose five locations, and those five in particular, because that's the number it would take to give students adequate coverage given...

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Posted September 23, 2019 by lgonzalez

Rural communities served by the North East Mississippi Electric Power Association (NEMEPA) should be enjoying high-quality Internet access from their co-op next year, if plans proceed as expected. The co-op Board of Directors voted on September 17th to move forward with plans to develop a Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network to their entire service area.

Thank you, Legislature

According to their press release, the 2019 change in state law to relax restrictions on electric cooperatives was the factor that encouraged NEMEPA to aggressively pursue the possibilities. With strong support from the state Public Service Commission, state lawmakers embraced the change and passed HB 366, the Mississippi Broadband Enabling Act. The bill removed decades-old language that required co-ops to use infrastructure only for delivery of electric service. Electric cooperatives will now allow be able to legally offer Internet access, a much-needed change for rural areas.

The cooperative worked with Conexon, the firm headed up by Randy Klindt and Jonathan Chambers, which has worked with numerous electric cooperatives like NEMEPA to design and develop broadband networks. 

NEMEPA has already commissioned two feasibility studies, which independently determined that the project will be viable as long as they can achieve a minimum take rate. A recent survey indicated that the need is so great in their region that members’ enthusiasm for their services will surpass the benchmark. NEMEPA plan to connect all 25,000 members within their 920-square-mile service area through a subsidiary.

In addition to gigabit connectivity, NEMEPA will upgrade their infrastructure to take advantage of smart grid capabilities to improve electrical distribution. In a letter from CEO Keith Howard posted on their Facebook page, NEMEPA states that people in the...

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Posted July 18, 2019 by Katie Kienbaum

Across the country, state legislatures are ushering in better rural connectivity by passing new laws that enable electric cooperatives to expand high-quality Internet access. In recent years, much of this legislation has authorized co-ops to deploy broadband infrastructure along existing electric easements. Other bills have removed restrictions that previously prevented electric co-ops from providing Internet access. Together, the new legislation makes it easier for electric cooperatives to bring high-speed broadband access to their members, signaling a brighter future for unconnected rural communities

Indiana in the Lead

Indiana’s state legislature was ahead of the curve when it passed SB 478, the Facilitating Internet Broadband Rural Expansion (FIBRE) Act back in 2017. The FIBRE Act permits electric cooperatives to use easements for their electric poles to also deploy broadband networks. Before the General Assembly passed this legislation, cooperatives that wanted to install communications infrastructure, such as fiber optic lines, along their electric easements would have to gain permission from each individual landowner to attach fiber to the existing poles.

Since the passage of the FIBRE Act two years ago, a number of Indiana electric cooperatives have embarked on broadband projects, including Jackson County Rural Electric Membership Corporation (REMC), South Central Indiana REMC, Orange County REMC, and Tipmont REMC. At the announcement event for South Central Indiana REMC’s fiber project, State Senator Eric Koch, author of SB 478, noted that state legislation like the FIBRE Act was enabling electric cooperatives to expand modern connectivity to rural Indiana.

State Laws Advance Co-op Broadband

A wave of support for rural cooperative broadband initiatives rippled through state...

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Posted April 17, 2019 by lgonzalez

Local communities in the state of Mississippi have the legal authority to develop publicly owned Internet networks and offer broadband, or any other utility, to the general public. When it comes to bonding in order to financing deployment for broadband infrastructure, however, the law isn’t as cut and dry. In order to stay on the right side of the law, the community of Columbus, Mississippi, decided to obtain permission from the state legislature to issue bonds for a $2.75 million expansion of their existing fiber optic network. Things didn’t work out as well as they had hoped, thanks to powerful lobbying influence in Jackson.

Stuck in Committee

Rep. Jeff Smith is Chair of the House Ways and Means Committee and introduced HB 1741, which would have granted permission for the city of Columbus to issue bonds to fund the infrastructure for better connectivity. Smith, who is also a board attorney for Columbus Light and Water (CLW), filed the bill because past opinions from state Attorneys General conflict on interpretation of the law. Bond attorneys told the utility board that the safest way forward would be to approach the Mississippi State Legislature for permission to bond.

The bill was directed to the House Local and Private Committee, but never received a hearing before the committee deadline of March 28th. According to Smith, HB 1741 had necessary support in the House, but Senate leadership would not let the bill advance:

"We were told lobbyists from Comcast and the other big cable providers had sat down with (Lt. Governor Tate Reeves) and encouraged him to kill three similar bills," Smith said. "He's the president of the Senate so ... when we heard that we knew it wasn't going to make it." 

seal-mississippi.png When compared to the lobbying forces of Comcast, AT&T, and other national Internet access providers, CLW and the city of Columbus can expect to be outgunned at every turn. Large companies with millions to spend on experts well-versed at convincing state Senators not to take up bills such as HB 1741 have an unfair advantage. With the financing and manpower to...

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Posted November 30, 2018 by lgonzalez

When it comes to high-quality Internet access, the big corporate ISPs have failed rural Mississippi. Other states with similar digital divide issues are starting to see rural electric cooperatives make efforts to connect members. In some places, legislatures have adjusted state laws that complicated co-ops' ability to deploy fiber optic infrastructure. Now, the Public Service Commission (PSC) in Mississippi has formally requested that state lawmakers update an antiquated statute to allow rural electric cooperatives to expand high-quality Internet access.

Waiting for Action

When Magnolia's State Legislators convene in January, they’ll have a unanimous resolution waiting for them from the state’s PSC. The resolution requests that lawmakers take action to adjust Miss. Code 77-5-205 to allow electric cooperatives the authority to offer Internet access. 

James Richardson, Policy Director and Counsel from the Office of Commissioner Brandon Presley, explained that the law currently only allows electric cooperatives the authority to form “…for the purpose of promoting and encouraging the fullest possible use of electric energy…” — electric cooperative are precluded from operating for any other purpose. The law was passed in the 1930s when cooperatives formed across the state to bring electricity to the many farmers in rural Mississippi. The matter has been tested and confirmed at the state Supreme Court

The PSC asks that the State Legislature create an exception in statute in order to allow rural electric cooperatives the the ability to also offer Internet access. Earlier this month, the three Commissioners on the PSC approved the resolution requesting the law change.

logo-ms-psc.jpg Presley has been...

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Posted July 26, 2018 by Hannah Rank

Buried under Jackson, Mississippi’s streets are miles of untapped dark fiber. The city council and new mayor’s office hope to change that, and have made moves to relight the fiber optic cables and put Jackson on the path to become the next regional tech hub.

The dark fiber city officials plan to relight have been around since at least 1997, and were installed by Capitol Cablevision, a subsidiary of Time Warner (now Spectrum Cable). They city already manages a little more than 100 miles of fiber cable, and 12 municipal facilities use it for high speed network access.

The Clarion Ledger of Jackson recently published a comprehensive summary of the municipality’s plans to capitalize on existing fiber assets. By tapping into the fiber incrementally, it hopes to slowly but surely get the city beyond 1 gigabit broadband speeds. So far, fiber access would be available for schools, hospitals, and other city institutions, as well as businesses in the area. Fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) is still years off.

Mississippi’s Off the Map

Mississippi is one of the lowest-ranked states in terms of access to broadband. In a 2017 opinion piece for the Jackson Free Press, Mississippi State University professor Pete Smith wrote about just how far reaching the digital divide is in the state:

“A September 2017 joint congressional report shows that one-third of Mississippians lack access to residential high-speed-Internet technology...as a 2016 Mississippi State University Extension Service report notes, broadband speeds for a majority of those who have access still fail to meet the suggested FCC download and upload speeds [of 25 Megabits per second download/3 Mbps upload]," Smite wrote. "In other words, we're almost dead last among all states in our efforts to close the broadband ‘digital divide.’"

The only provider currently offering...

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Posted July 3, 2017 by lgonzalez

Tupelo, Mississippi, received a special visit from President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1935 to celebrate the community as the “First TVA City.” The title described the community’s new electrification by the Tennessee Valley Authority, an event that incorporated federal assistance, local workers, and the start of rural electrification. Now, Tupelo is aiming for publicly owned fiber.

Yesterday Electricity...Today Fiber

Community leaders haven’t decided on a model yet, but they recently expressed an interest in expanding the Tupelo Water & Light fiber optic loop that runs around the city. The exiting network provides communications and management between utilities substations. Their goal is to put the infrastructure in place and collaborate with a private sector provider to bring better connectivity to local residents and businesses.

The Daily Journal reported that the project is a priority for the current administration:

The mayor believes that an expansive fiber optic network in the city will boost Tupelo’s desirability, particularly for the young professionals he wants to call the city home.

“We want to provide the incentive for people that need that high speed Internet to live here,” Shelton said.

Once a robust fiber optic network is in place, Shelton’s administration has discussed the possibility of a partnership with a private provider who would actually offer the residential access and manage the customer base.

Tupelo, Lee County, Mississippi

The city used to be well known as a transportation hub in the days when railroad intersections created busy urban centers. In recent years, Tupelo has capitalized on its bragging rights as the birthplace of Elvis Presley and as the location of the Trace State Park. Hikers start or end their long journey on the Natchez Trace Parkway, a 444-mile trail that was used by Native Americans and Explorers. The trail is a historic trek attracting nature enthusiasts.

In addition to tourism, Tupelo has attracted manufacturers such as Toyota, Cooper Tire & Rubber, and a large furniture manufacturing facility. Two large banking institutions make their headquarters in...

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Posted January 18, 2016 by htrostle

A recent series of in-depth articles from Education Week brings to light a persistent aspect of the digital divide: the lack of fast, affordable, reliable connectivity in rural schools. Throughout the country, schools struggle to pay exorbitant fees for aging copper networks. Teachers and students are cut off from digital learning opportunities as whole regions fall farther behind. Education Week brings these issues to the forefront - and community-owned institutional networks could be the answer.

The Education Week articles describes the harsh impact of these grim statistics. The nonprofit EducationSuperHighway found that for rural schools, the median price for connectivity is more than double that of urban or even suburban schools. Although the number of students without access to sufficient bandwidth has been cut in half since 2013, at least 21 million students do not have access to adequate connections. 

In extremely rural communities, large service providers do not have an incentive to build high-speed networks, and small private providers often cannot take on those high upfront costs. This leaves communities with no choice, but to pay skyrocketing rates for slow, unreliable Internet access over aging infrastructure.

East and West: Students Face Similar Challenges

The articles present two compelling case studies of Calhoun County, Mississippi, and Catron County, New Mexico, to tell the story of how high-speed connectivity is so often out-of-reach for rural schools.

Two schools in sparsely-populated western New Mexico split 22 Megabits per second (Mbps) of bandwidth for $3,700 per month. An increase to 50 Mbps wouldn’t require  new fiber, but the upgrade would cost an extra $1,003.47 each month. The local provider has a de facto monopoly in the region so the schools have no choice but to pay the going rate; with no competition they have no leverage for negotiating. According to the New Mexico Public School Facilities Authority, monthly rates range from $1.35 to $3,780 for each Mbps of speed across the state.

In Calhoun County, the...

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Posted October 21, 2015 by lgonzalez

Communities along Mississippi's Gulf coast have recently suffered through disasters both natural and not, from Hurricane Katrina to BP's Deepwater Horizon blowout and aftermath. But they are investing some of the relief funds into infrastructure of the future to help recover. 

Biloxi and Gulfport city officials recently passed resolutions approving an intergovernmental agreement to bring better connectivity to Mississippi Coastal communities. The vote was the next step in the Mississippi Gulf Coast Fiber Ring initiative announced this summer by Biloxi Mayor Andrew "FoFo" Gilich to encourage municipal networks in the region.

The agreement will establish the Gulf Coast Broadband Commission, a public utility  charged with deploying, operating, and maintaining a fiber optic network in and between the two cities. The agreement also specifically grants the Commission the ability to seek out financing to perform its function. Other municipalities and counties can join the agreement as members after the Commission is established.

If other local governments want to participate, they must agree to minimum standards for expansion. Members must promise to offer symmetrical gigabit connectivity, commit to serve every residence and business within a community within 7 years of joining, agree to offer free public Wi-Fi, and require ISPs using the infrastructure to have a local customer service presence. The agreement requires state approval before it is finalized.

In July, Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant pledged $15 million to the project from the fund created by the Restore Act. The Act establishes how the state will disburse $2.2 billion paid by British Petroleum as fines for the Deepwater Horizon disaster in 2010. Biloxi settled with BP in a separate suit, accepting approximately $5 million and is considering directing at least some of those funds toward municipal fiber deployment.

In addition to Deepwater Horizon, the area never fully recovered from Hurricane Katrina. The region has lost...

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Posted July 24, 2015 by lgonzalez

Community leaders in the city of Biloxi want to expand massive water and sewer infrastructure improvements to include broadband infrastructure. The City Attorney Gerald Blessey recently addressed members from the Leadership Gulf Coast group and during the speech he shared the idea to spread fiber throughout Biloxi.

Mayor FoFo Gilich has already spoken with the Governor who, reports WXXV 25, is interested in the idea. Streets in town are being excavated for the water and sewer project and Gilich wants to use this opportunity to install conduit and fiber.

Biloxi recently settled a lawsuit for just under $5 million with British Petrolium (BP) for economic losses arising from the Deepwater Horizon disaster in 2010. Community leaders consider fiber a strong investment to help the area recover.

“And not only is it going to be economic development, but it’s going to be quality of life. Our school system needs this. The medical system needs this. The casino industry needs this,” said [Vincent Creel, city of Biloxi Public Affairs Manager]. 

The Biloxi plan may be happening in coordination with a larger initiative to bring fiber to the coastal area. The Mississippi Gulf Coast Fiber Ring would link 12 cities along the southern coast; each community would determine their own level of service.

The Sun Herald reports that Governor Phil Bryant has offered an additional $15 million in BP state settlement funds to deploy fiber. While any network is still in the idea stage, the plan will likely involve establishing a nonprofit organization to own and operate the fiber ring.

The Coast counties need the economic development a fiber network could bring. According to the Sun Herald:

Since Hurricane Katrina, the recession and oil spill, the three Coast counties are down 2,700 jobs compared to the pre-recession numbers of 2008, and down 5,600 jobs compared to pre-Hurricane Katrina in 2005, [Blessey] said.

The technology will draw talented new people and high-tech business to the Coast, he said. He sees the technology supporting research at colleges in South Mississippi and providing medical...

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