BEAM wants your help with the broadband map

Mississippi’s new Broadband Expansion Agency is asking the public to help with statewide Internet speed and availability data, for the mapping that will be crucial to receiving federal funding for broadband infrastructure.

The federal government is investing billions of dollars in expanding rural Internet service nationwide. Inaccuracy of service availability mapping has been a long-standing problem in determining underserved and underserved areas.

In the coming months, the Mississippi Office of Broadband Expansion and Accessibility for Mississippi (BEAM) will use data collected across the state to challenge inaccuracies on the current federal map. This map will be used starting in July to divide up funding among all states by the federal Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.

Any Mississippi citizen who does not have adequate internet service is welcome to visit www.broadbandms.com. Those without any service can call or text “Internet” at 601-439-2535 to report out-of-service locations.

“Our office has been gathering data and working with a mapping consultant to prepare for the release of the FCC map in November,” said Sally Doty, director of BEAM. “We knew the initial map would not show a true picture of broadband service in Mississippi, and our office is ready to engage in the challenge process so Mississippi is fairly represented.”

While past data and mapping have been spotty, there have been estimates that 40% of Mississippi lacks Internet access and ranked bottom among states for access to the service. The effort to extend it has been compared to delivering electricity to rural Mississippi in the 1930s and officials said it should have a similar life-changing impact.

Beam received requests from Internet service providers and distributed $162 million in American Rescue Plan Act federal funds earmarked for broadband expansion. The state is expected to receive $500 million to $1.1 billion for expansion from the Infrastructure Act.

The state has received hundreds of millions of federal dollars for broadband expansion in recent years. It received $495 million from the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund, and lawmakers pledged an additional $75 million from the state’s first round of pandemic relief. Most of this money has gone to rural electric cooperatives which have so far extended Internet service to thousands of homes.

Public Service Commissioner Brandon Presley has been a staunch advocate of expanding broadband service in Mississippi’s small towns and rural communities and spearheaded efforts to change laws to allow electric cooperatives to provide service.

“Whether it’s telecommuting, telemedicine or online education, broadband accessibility will foster economic investment and improve the quality of life for countless rural Mississippians,” Presley said. “I won’t stop until every last house at the end of every rural dirt road in Mississippi is connected.”

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