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Public service commission receives many responses on broadband gaps

The Southern District Public Service Commission is collecting information from the public on gaps in cellphone coverage and areas that lack high-speed Internet service or natural gas service in south Mississippi and has already seen an influx of feedback.

Residents in south Mississippi living in areas that lack access to quality cell coverage, high speed Internet and natural gas are being asked to fill out a consumer survey for the Public Service Commission. The survey can be filled out online at psc.ms.gov/south/ztg or printed and mailed in. For assistance with the survey call 228-374-2160.

The Zap the Gap Program was brought to northern Mississippi in 2008 by Public Service Commissioner Brandon Presley. Now, Public Service Commissioner Dane Maxwell is expanding the program to collect information in southern Mississippi.

The program has already had a large response from residents, with over 400 phone calls since early June, said Carolyn Bishop with the Southern District Mississippi Public Service Commission.

“Our office has been flooded with responses, both through the online portal and via phone call,” Bishop said.

The public service commission is collecting the information directly from residents to help speed up the expansion of services in those areas. The information will be used to gauge interest in expanding services, said Bishop.

The commission will work with service providers to help the companies identify the largest problem areas in the district.

The need for more people to work from home during the pandemic made more people realize the need for reliable home Internet, said Bishop.

Pearl River County Broadband Service

According to the FCC’s broadband map, there are Internet providers who provide up to 25 mbps downstream and 3 upstream throughout the county, but in 23 percent of the county there is not an Internet provider offering speeds of 100 mbps downstream and 10 upstream.

Only 12 percent of the county has three or more providers that offer Internet service at that speed.

About 1 percent of the county is unable to subscribe to Internet access providers that offer Internet with 25 mbps downstream and 3 upstream unless they opt for a satellite based service provider. For 17 percent of the county there is only one non-satellite provider that offers Internet at that speed.

Poplarville

For Poplarville residents who do not want Internet service via satellite, only 11 percent of residents could choose from three or more providers for Internet at 25/3 mbs. For 40 percent of residents there were no providers offering Internet at 100/10 mbs.

Picayune

For Picayune residents who do not want Internet service via satellite, 91 percent could choose from three or more providers for Internet at 25/3 mbs. For 34 percent of residents, only one provider offered service at 100/10 mbs.

Potential Funding for Expanding Service

On Monday the Legislature approved the COVID-19 Connectivity Act, which is expected to establish a COVID-19 Connectivity Grant Program in an effort to expand Internet access across the state. The grants could fund projects to expand Internet access to underserved areas in the state.

CARES Act funds could be used to provide the grants, with $65 million available to electric cooperatives that want to provide broadband to underserved areas and $10 million available to other broadband providers, said Bishop.

Internet providers would be required to match 50 to 65 percent of the funds they received, depending on certain criteria. Only up to 50 percent of the match can come from other grant funding or third party funding.

Grant applications would be submitted to the Public Utilities Staff, which is overseen by the Public Service Commission.

This story has been updated to include the correct phone number for assistance with the survey.