Right now, Mississippi ranks 42nd in the country when it comes to broadband access. Broadband is fast internet, and without it, local businesses can’t compete, and communities have a tough time attracting jobs.
Thankfully, that’s beginning to change.
Last month, the state Public Service Commission awarded $268 million to local electric cooperatives across the state to deliver broadband to over 102,000 homes and businesses.
This comes after the legislature passed Senate Bill 2798, which is going to let power companies use their lines to expand broadband access to rural Mississippi.
“Rural Mississippi,’ you know, is just about everywhere but Jackson,” Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann said recently when joined my association, the National Federation of Independent Business, for a virtual event called Small Business Day. “We have towns and cities and gravel roads and subdivisions that never had access to the internet.”
According to Broadband Now, a consumer research site, only 58.7% of Mississippians have access to wired broadband. The rest may have access to the internet, but it’s a slow connection, and that’s the problem.
When we talk about broadband, we mean an internet connection with a minimum download speed of 25 megabits per second (Mbps) and an upload speed of 3 Mbps. According to the Federal Communications Commission, one Mbps is fine for checking email, six works for a video chat, and 10 lets a person download big files fairly quickly.
Broadband lets you do all those things at once, and that’s important when you’re trying to run a small business.
Broadband matters to big businesses, too. These days, companies need broadband the same way businesses in the past needed rivers, rail, and roads; they won’t bring jobs to a community if they can’t reach their customers.
Luckily, our elected leaders understand what's at stake for Mississippi if we aren't better connected. When the state got $1.2 billion in federal COVID-19 stimulus money, it used some of the money for grants so rural electric co-ops could provide broadband to their customers. When he joined us last month for Small Business Day, Hosemann said the program “generated over 4,000 miles of [broadband] coverage to rural Mississippi.”
We might rank near the bottom when it comes to broadband access now, but the technology news website CNET said this winter that Mississippi could be “one of the most connected states in the nation within the next five to six years.”
On behalf of our small business members, I want to thank Gov. Tate Reeves, Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann, and legislative leaders for working to expand broadband to rural Mississippi. We've reached a point where fast internet is just as important as a phone line when it comes to connecting with customers and growing your business.
Dawn Starns McVea is the Mississippi state director of the National Federation of Independent Business, the nation’s leading small business advocacy organization.