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Mississippi Creates Statewide Broadband Development Office

Gov. Tate Reeves signed a bill into law this week that will oversee how broadband funding is allocated across the state and help connect more residents. It will be headed by former state Sen. Sally Doty.

(TNS) — Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves on Wednesday signed a bill into law that will create a new statewide office for broadband Internet development.

"One's ZIP code should not determine their access to these technologies," Reeves said at a bill signing ceremony.

House Bill 1029 establishes the Broadband Expansion and Accessibility of Mississippi office (BEAM), which would be tasked with managing hundreds of millions of federal dollars from the American Rescue Plan Act and the Infrastructure Investments and Jobs Act.

Reeves has appointed former state Sen. Sally Doty to run the office.

U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker, R- Tupelo, attended the bill signing ceremony and called the state legislation a "quantum leap" that would connect more Mississippians to quality Internet service. Wicker voted against the ARPA bill in Congress but voted in favor of the infrastructure bill.

"Broadband connectivity is the rural electrification of the 21st century," Wicker said.

Doty, a former state senator from Brookhaven and the current director of the Public Utilities Staff, said she wants every Mississippian to have high speed connectivity as quickly as possible and is already crafting plans and reviewing federal regulations for broadband deployment projects.

"My team will work diligently to establish a plan to reach unserved areas and to leverage federal funds to reach underserved areas across the state at speeds that will allow all Mississippians to participate in this digital economy that we're a part of now," Doty said.

Doty said she intends to start leading the BEAM office in June, which would mean the Public Service Commission and the governor would have to fill her vacancy in the coming months.

The intent of the new office is to create a streamlined, central process for how broadband dollars are doled out for projects around the state.

But the new legislation creates a new state office and not a commission or board, so its decisions would likely not be governed under the state's open meetings act. And the new law says that most BEAM records are confidential and exempt from the state's public records act.

Still, Reeves and Doty believe that because the new office is subject to legislative oversight and placed under the purview of the Department of Finance and Administration and the governor, there are enough guardrails in place to hold the agency's actions accountable.

Broadband Now still ranks Mississippi near the bottom of access to quality, affordable broadband and estimates that 16 percent of the population remains without access to a high-speed wired broadband connection with the federal basic download speed.

(c)2022 the Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal (Tupelo, Miss.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
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