When Mississippi House Speaker Philip Gunn began looking at ways to solve the lack of high-speed broadband access that plagues much of rural Mississippi last summer, he turned to utility companies to understand the problem. A big issue for any utility company, broadband or not, he learned, is the cost of running new lines to rural areas.
"An employee told me he was assigned a task by a boss one day to figure out how much it was going to cost to provide service to six houses down the road," the Republican House leader recalled at the Stennis Institute luncheon in Jackson on Monday.
The employee came back to the boss with two proposals: Pay $300,000 to run the lines to the sparsely populated country area, equal to $50,000 a house, or pay $200,000 to move the houses to town.
"It was cheaper to move the houses to the service than to take the service to the houses," Gunn said.
Solving the problem was not easy, he said, because it pitted the state-funded electrical cooperatives against cable and telephone companies.
"I decided I cannot figure this out, so I got everyone in the room," he said Monday.
With Gunn's support, the Legislature passed and Gov. Phil Bryant signed a law in January that aims to solve the problem.
The Mississippi Broadband Enabling Act permits Mississippi's 25 electric cooperatives, also known as ECMs, to offer high-speed service to their rural customers—many of whom currently lack access to broadband internet. An electric cooperative is a nonprofit utility business voluntarily owned by the people to whom it provides service. Examples of such businesses in Mississippi include the Yazoo Valley Electric Power Association and the Northcentral Electric Power Association. It could be years before rural Mississippians see the benefits, though.
"This bill was passed early in the session, we passed it the