Mississippi to receive $16M to expand broadband access
JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Mississippi is receiving more than $16 million in federal coronavirus relief money to provide broadband access to rural parts of the state, officials announced Tuesday.
The program will provide high-speed broadband internet access to more than 2,000 people, 331 farms, 32 businesses, a post office and six fire stations in Yalobusha, Tallahatchie, Panola, Grenada and Quitman counties, United States Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue announced Tuesday during a virtual press conference.
Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves said broadband access has long been an issue in Mississippi. Mississippi ranked 49th in broadband coverage in 2018, according to data from BroadbandNow. A 2017 report by the Census Bureau showed that only 61% of Mississippians had access to broadband in 2015.
The pandemic has made that disparity even more obvious, Reeves said.
“Distance learning had a much deeper price for many of our families; it’s just not an education,” Reeves said. “It’s pretty easy to work from home if you’re employed by a marketing agency in New York City. It’s a lot harder to do so if you live in rural Mississippi.”
Republican Sen. Roger Wicker said reliable internet access is “an essential part of being part of the 21-century economy.”
The $16 million is being funneled through the United States Department of Agriculture as part of the $100 million in coronavirus relief grant funding made available for the ReConnect Pilot Program, which aims to increase reliable broadband in rural areas of the United States. Tallahatchie Valley Electric Power Association will deploy a fiber-to-the-premises network to provide homes and businesses in rural Mississippi with broadband access.