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Rural broadband bill passes House

 

Rep. Noah Sanford

 

The 2019 legislative session convened on Tuesday, January 8. Within a week, the House of Representatives had passed what could be one of the most consequential laws for rural Mississippi—a bill to allow the electric cooperatives to offer Internet services.

When the co-ops were established in the 1930s, the law limited their services to electricity only. Over the last several years, a handful of states have passed laws allowing rural electric co-ops to offer Internet service. Some co-ops have tried and succeeded; others have tried and failed. It is a very expensive undertaking for any electric co-op.

Thankfully, Southern Pine—which services nearly all of District 90—has shown interest in offering rural broadband. I desperately hope they will be able to make it a financially feasible investment.

Internet is now essential not only for entertainment—from television, movies, and games—but, more importantly, for necessities. Students doing research homework, those who work from home, and patients utilizing telemedicine all need fast Internet.

The bill that passed the House contains protections for electric ratepayers who might not subscribe to Internet services. First, it maintains that the co-ops must establish subsidiaries to run their Internet services and may not comingle funds from their electric and Internet services.

Further, a co-op may not charge more in pole attachment fees (what is charged for cable/internet/phone companies that attach their lines to a co-op’s pole) to its competitors than it charges its own subsidiary. This will mean true competition among Internet providers and should help keep Internet prices down.

This law could be a gamechanger for rural Mississippi, and I certainly hope that it is. The bill now heads to the Senate, where it will hopefully pass without substantial changes.

Again, I appreciate the opportunity to serve, and I will continue to look out for average, taxpaying Mississippians. Please contact me if I can be of assistance.

Rep. Noah Sanford represents parts of Covington, Simpson, and Jefferson Davis Counties in the Mississippi House of Representatives. He can be reached at 601-765-4122 or NSanford@house.ms.gov.

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