September 27, 2017
Mississippi ranks 49th in the United States in terms of broadband coverage. Even though 100 percent of residents have access to mobile broadband and nearly 90 percent of the state has access to wireline service, Broadband Now considers approximately 40 percent of the state to be underserved.
Does that mean that it’s time for the government to step in?
No, says Dr. Jameson Taylor, who serves as vice president for policy at the Mississippi Center for Public Policy.
In a column published last week in The Clarion-Ledger, Dr. Taylor argued, “When it comes to fixing the problems facing our state, government’s best strategy is often to get out of the way.” He said, “That’s especially true when it comes to expanding internet access to rural areas.” Dr. Taylor suggests cities in Mississippi explore how to partner with the private sector or how to improve regulations in order to speed up development instead of using tax dollars to build municipal broadband networks. (Dr. Taylor points out municipal networks in other states have “failed spectacularly.”)
Dr. Taylor has at least one private sector project in mind. He reports that Microsoft has launched a project to use unused television stations “to create a sort of high-speed ‘Super Wi-Fi’ broadband service.” This project would be able to “connect Mississippi’s rural communities without running broadband infrastructure to remote areas.” The countries of Malawi and India are experimenting with similar systems now. Unfortunately, as Dr. Taylor also explains, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is right now “standing in the way of this dream becoming a reality.” He calls for the FCC to “move forward with its proposal to set aside three currently unused TV frequencies in each market in order for white spaces internet coverage to operate.”
While Microsoft is waiting for the FCC to move, other companies have expanded and enhanced service in Mississippi. AT&T has launched gigabit service in Jackson while MaxxSouth Broadband is offering super-fast speeds in Oxford and Starkville. And even though portions of Mississippi are still underserved, about 64 percent of the population already can access speeds that are 100 megabits per second or faster.
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