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Internet access is important

Mississippians in eight rural counties soon will have access to broadband service to connect to the Internet.

Connect America is working to provide this service to more than 139,000 homes and businesses in Mississippi over the next six years with help from the Federal Communications Commission.

Mississippi ranks 41 as the most connected state with broadband coverage with 26 percent of our population underserved. Recently, Gov. Phil Bryant announced that $15 million of the funds received from the BP oil spill in 2010 would be used to expand fiber optic along the counties on the Mississippi Gulf Coast.

In Oxford City Schools, every middle and high school student is issued a MacBook Air laptop through the One to One Initiative implemented by the Oxford School District. The Oxford School District wants students to be prepared for college or career experiences by having access to state-of-the-art resources.

Internet access has never been more important for our local school children. Many students from the middle school go to the Oxford & Lafayette County Library in the afternoon to complete their assignments because some don’t have Internet access at home.

Oxford is one of three Mississippi cities with 100 percent broadband coverage but that doesn’t include all areas of Lafayette County. Gulfport and Ocean Springs are the other two cities in the state that have 100 percent coverage. Oxford has 11 different broadband providers.

In Mississippi, the FCC has released $51.5 million to expand broadband coverage throughout the state. About $41.8 million of these funds will go to AT&T with the remaining funds going to Frontier Communications and Windstream.

AT&T will use its current infrastructure to help with the expansion under Connect America and may add antennas or new cell towers to some areas in Mississippi.

The Internet has become such an important way of life for all of us. Bringing broadband to rural areas is expensive due to high infrastructure costs relative to the low number of customers who will be using the service but necessary for our state to prosper.

Presently, according to Broadbandnow.com, Mississippi has an average speed of 25.8 mega-bits-per-second (Mbps) statewide speed, which isn’t very fast. Most school districts and health care facilities need speeds of close to 175-200 Mbps.

We applaud the FCC’s connect America Fund and for the work they are doing to make sure that all Mississippians have access to broadband coverage.