State Receives $1.2 Billion for Internet Expansion
Jul. 19, 2023
Source: Rankin County News by Charles Bailey
RANKIN – District Three county Supervisor Brad Calhoun and District Four’s Steve Gaines will be quick to tell you about the lack of high-speed internet access that exists in the rural portions of their districts. Help is on the way.
Mississippi is set to receive $1.2 billion through the Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) program, which was signed into law by President Joe Biden under a larger infrastructure improvement initiative.
Among Mississippi’s federal delegation, only Democratic Congressman Bennie Thompson and Republican Senator Roger Wicker voted to support the BEAD component.
Approximately 300,000 homes and businesses in Mississippi are reportedly unserved or underserved concerning high-speed Internet access. The $1.2 billion should go a long way toward bridging that gap.
“We have applied for a grant to hopefully bring Internet to this rural part of the county,” Calhoun said. “This is absolutely what everybody has been hoping for, down here in the southeast part of Rankin County. The lack of Internet service is an issue for all of the rural part of the county.
“If we were to have another COVID or something like it, it would affect a lot of people. When COVID hit, everybody would have to drive down to the Puckett Library or the school to get hooked up into wi-fi, and that put a lot of burden on a lot of people,” he said.
“But anytime, homework is done on computers now, and if you don’t have Internet service, it’s a burden to do that even at home. This is going to be beneficial, and the sooner, the better.” Gaines agrees.
“It’s what we were hoping for,” he said. “If it’s not the top, it’s one of the top priorities for me in this coming term. We’ve already begun the process, but it will take some time. I anticipate knowing how we’ve fared (in terms of funding) sometime in the spring of 2014.
During the height of COVID-19, with schools closed to in-house learning throughout Mississippi, it was virtually impossible for kids in rural, underserved areas to simply keep up.
“It was very difficult for students to achieve their goals in education when everything was online,” Gaines said. “You had to travel to a library, or a school parking lot. It was virtually impossible to do what had to be done. It was complete chaos in the rural areas of Rankin County, where kids had no access to Internet service. This is big for Rankin County, and tremendous for District Four.”
Board of Supervisors Attorney Craig Slay detailed the process the county will undergo to receive BEAD dollars and expand access. “Rankin First Economic Development Authority and its Board of Directors has joined with the Rankin County Board of Supervisors in pursuing federal grant funding made available through the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act that was passed by Congress in the 2021 Congressional Session.” Slay said. “Rankin County and Rankin First wish to thank Senator Roger Wicker for his strong support for this historic legislation that will potentially bring long-overdue Internet connectivity to the rural sections of Rankin County.”
“The process for qualifying for this funding is complex and involved, and there remains significant work to be done before funding is even available to our community. Assuming success in receiving a funding award, the process will then begin so that a qualified Internet provider may be selected to carry out installation and service activities. The Board of Supervisors is extremely grateful to have a worthy partner in this process, and our citizens will benefit greatly from this cooperation.”
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