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Mississippi’s new broadband expansion agency is asking the public for help mapping data on internet speed and availability across the state that will be critical to securing federal funding for broadband infrastructure.

The federal government is investing billions of dollars to expand Internet service in rural areas across the country. Inaccuracy in service availability mapping is a long-standing problem in determining unserved and unserved areas.

Over the next several months, the Office of Broadband Expansion and Access for Mississippi (BEAM) will use data collected across the state to challenge inaccuracies in the current federal map. This map will be used starting in July to distribute funding from the federal Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act among all states.

Any Mississippian without adequate Internet service is asked to visit www.broadbandms.com. Those without service at all can call or text Internet at 601-439-2535 to report areas without service.

“Our office has been collecting data and working with a mapping consultant to prepare for the release of the FCC map in November,” said BEAM Director Sally Doty. “We knew the preliminary map did not reflect the true picture of broadband service in Mississippi, and our office is willing to engage in the challenge process to ensure Mississippi is fairly represented.”

Although past data and mapping has been spotty, it has been estimated that 40% of Mississippi lacks Internet access, ranking it last among the states in terms of service availability. The effort to extend it has been likened to providing electricity to rural Mississippi in the 1930s, and officials say it should have a similar life-changing effect.

Beam is accepting applications from Internet providers and receiving $162 million from the federal U.S. bailout act, which is designed to expand broadband. The state is expected to receive between $500 million and $1.1 billion for the expansion from the Infrastructure Act.

In recent years, the state has received hundreds of millions of federal dollars to expand broadband. It received $495 million from the Rural Digital Opportunities Fund, and lawmakers appropriated another $75 million from the state’s first round of pandemic aid. Much of this money has gone to rural electric cooperatives, which have so far extended Internet service to thousands of homes.

Public Service Commissioner Brandon Presley has been a staunch advocate for expanding broadband service to small towns and rural communities in Mississippi and has led efforts to change laws to allow electric cooperatives to provide service.

“Whether it’s telecommuting, telemedicine or online education, broadband access will spur economic investment and enhance the quality of life for rural Mississippians,” Presley said. “I will not rest until the last house at the end of every rural dirt road in Mississippi is connected.”

This article first appeared on Mississippi Today and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

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