By Ray Van Dusen
For Corinth Today
Northern District Public Service Commissioner Brandon Presley has high hopes that a rural broadband model in Alabama that will help supply Marion County, Alabama, residents with access to high-speed internet can do the same for Northeast Mississippi.
Presley invited a delegation Thursday of state legislators and electric power association general managers to the announcement of a $3 million grant administered through the U.S. Department of Agriculture for Tombigbee Communications. The company is a subsidiary of Tombigbee Electric Cooperative. Its broadband expansion campaign is called Freedom FIBER.
“This is 15 miles away from the state line, but it may as well be 15,000 miles compared to the services we’re getting in Mississippi,” said Presley, who is facilitating a field day in June for Mississippi legislators and electric power association managers to visit Tombigbee Communications to understand how the program came to be.
A bill is being drafted in Mississippi to allow electric power associations to start subsidiaries to provide broadband service to rural areas, according to Presley.
“It’s the same plan from the ’30s to get electricity. Everybody’s got to work together,” said Rep. Preston Sullivan, D, who serves Chickasaw and Pontotoc counties.
Sen. Chuck Younger, R-Columbus, said it would be good for agriculture and the state’s economy. District 8 Sen. Russell Jolly, D, added if it can work in Alabama, it can work in Mississippi.
General managers of Tombigbee, Pontotoc, Prentiss County, 4-County and North East Mississippi electric power associations were present for the announcement.
U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue, Alabama U.S. Congressman Robert Aderholt and Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey joined Tombigee Communications CEO Steve Foshee for the grant announcement, which also attracted representatives from Tennessee and Georgia.
The $2.8 million grant was part of a $625 million broadband pilot program to improve such services to rural America.
“This means a real transformation of rural America having the opportunity to participate in the American dream once again,” said Perdue, who compared the Freedom FIBER expansion to electricity through President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal. “You are the forerunners of what I hope to see all across this country. It is absolutely one of the most transformative things in the 21st Century to give all of rural America the access to high-speed internet.”