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Mixed technology model could expand internet access in rural Mississippi

When I served in the Mississippi Senate, we were constantly trying to find ways to improve Mississippi.  For much of our State, what’s holding us back is the lack of access to information because many of our communities are on the wrong side of the digital divide.

In big cities, high-speed internet access is available from multiple providers at reasonable prices.  This provides a big advantage to big city students, businesses, hospitals, schools, and anyone in need of information.  It’s part of the reason cities are growing faster than other areas in America.

However, in rural Mississippi, that picture isn’t as clear.  There are fewer Broadband providers and it’s more expensive.  This is a national problem.  There are about 24 million rural Americans who don’t have access to Broadband.  It is the 21st century. Broadband access is not a luxury; it is a necessity. It can have an enormous impact on medicine, agriculture, business, and education.

The rural Broadband gap exists because it is difficult to find a way to connect users in rural areas in a cost-effective manner.  The costs of fiber cable can run $30,000 per mile.  This makes running cable to widely dispersed customers in rural areas unfeasible.  

One of the best answers to bringing Broadband coverage to rural Americans is adopting a mixed technology model.  For 80 percent of rural Americans, Broadband access is possible if we help internet service providers and other companies take advantage of “TV White Spaces.”  These unused channels below 700MHz can be used to broadcast high-speed internet as far as ten miles in hard-to-reach places.  In other parts of rural America, the answer is fixed wireless or satellite coverage.

Mixed technology represents a real plan that can bridge the digital divide in a cost-effective manner.  A new coalition called Connect Americans Now (CAN) is partnering with leading supporters like Microsoft and telecommunications companies to provide high-speed Internet in rural communities through TV white spaces and other solutions.  I have visited the website www.ConnectAmericansNow.com to join the coalition and encourage you to do the same.

The success of CAN is dependent on leadership in Washington.  The Federal Communications Commission needs to ensure the continued use of at least three channels below 700MHz on an unlicensed basis in every market in the country.  These channels would be open to the public so that multiple companies can take advantage of the opportunity and provide Broadband coverage to millions.  If you want more Broadband coverage in your community, please join CAN coalition today and ask your Congressional members to urge the FCC to take the action to allow the private sector to make this technology available to those of us in north Mississippi.

Merle Flowers

Merle Flowers was a Mississippi Senator from 2004 to 2012. He lives in Desoto County. 

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