One-hundred-fourteen people turned out in the cold rain last night to support better availability of broadband internet service in Union County.
The meeting was called by Northern District Public Service Commissioner Brandon Presley, who has battled for years to improve internet service in rural Mississippi.
Most of those gathered in the circuit court room at the Union County Courthouse were residents of the rural parts of the county. Presley focused attention on State Senate Bill Number 2474, which was introduced by State Senator Hob Bryan of Monroe County and is co-sponsored by State Senator Kathy Chism of Union County.
Presley gave a history of why Senate Bill 2474 is important to expanding broadband internet service in Union County.
During the 1930s, Mississippi enacted a law defining what services municipally owned utility companies could provide to their customers. Allowed services included water, gas, and electricity. Nobody anticipated the existence of the internet 90 years ago, so city-owned utilities generally can not provide internet service.
Thus, New Albany Lights, Gas and Water (NALGW) is not allowed to provide internet service to its customers. Senate Bill 2474 would change the law to allow NALGW to provide broadband internet service. The bill has passed the State Senate and is now being considered in the State House of Representatives.
Presley said that “Big Fat Cable and Big Fat AT&T” are working to kill the bill in the House of Representatives. He explained that the major internet providers such as MaxxSouth and AT&T do not ever intend to provide broadband internet service in rural areas with low population density. Yet the big providers know that, if Senate Bill 2474 becomes law, they will have to compete with NALGW for broadband internet customers the big companies now serve within the city limits of New Albany.
The bill allows municipally owned utilities with 30% of their current customers outside the municipal limits of the city to start providing internet service. That would apply to NALGW, which already provides electricity and natural gas to many rural customers, and would allow them to furnish access to broadband internet.
Presley said lobbyists for “Big Fat Cable and Big Fat AT&T” are treating key House members to “steak dinners and bottles of wine in Jackson” in their efforts to assure that Senate Bill 2474 does not pass the House.
Presley urged people at the meeting to phone the office of Speaker of the House Philip Gunn at (601) 359-3300 to urge passage of the bill by the House. Both Presley and Senator Chism said it is important that the calls be courteous and polite, not angry and confrontational.
Those interested should call Speaker Gunn’s office voicing their support this week, because the bill must be reported out of committee by next Wednesday, March 2.
Presley introduced Bill Mattox, the manager of NALGW and said Mattox had joined him in many meetings working to bring broadband internet to rural Union County. Mattox thanked Presley, Senator Chism and State Representative Sam Creekmore IV for their work trying to pass the bill.
Presley introduced Senator Chism and State Representative Creekmore. Both spoke briefly about the importance of this legislation to people in Union County.
Other public officials present at the meeting and supporting Senate Bill 2474 included New Albany Police Chief Chris Robertson; Chancery Clerk Annette Hickey; County Supervisors Randy Owen, Sam Taylor and Steve Watson; and New Albany Aldermen Keith Conlee, Drew Horn and Will Tucker.
To express your opinion on the passage of Bill 2474, call the office of Speaker Philip Gunn at (601) 359-3300.
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