My friend Blake Wilson at the Mississippi Economic Council is fond of saying, “Mississippi is a small state spread over a lot of land.” It’s a good description. While our population is relatively small, the size of our state is not. And unlike a lot of states, our citizens seem more spread out, in numerous small towns and communities between larger population centers.
Delivering services of many kinds can be economically challenging in sparsely populated areas. In my industry, the challenge is delivering broadband to such locations. There is good news on that front. But, first, a little background is necessary.
For most of the 20th century, the public policy objective was to deliver voice telephone service to almost every American. This goal of “universal service” was achieved through a complex system of government regulation and price setting of the monopoly provider. High prices for long distance calls (remember those?) and other services subsidized the otherwise uneconomic delivery of voice telephone service to homes and businesses in high cost locations.
Rapidly changing technology and competition from a host of new providers led to innovative products and services such as broadband that required a different approach to universal service.
Thankfully, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) re-designed the nation’s universal service program for the modern era in 2011. It placed a new focus on delivering broadband service to homes and businesses with little or no broadband options and announced plans to move to a new, market-based approach. The first phase of the updated program, the Connect America Fund (CAF), was launched in 2012. Since then, AT&T Mississippi has invested CAF funding to bring broadband service to 150,000 homes and businesses in rural communities like Harperville, Crenshaw, Potts Camp, Buckatunna, and Hurley, to name only a few. That’s good news! And there’s more coming …
In late August, AT&T informed the FCC that we will participate in the new phase of the program (CAF II) and committed to deliver broadband service to an additional 133,000 rural homes and businesses in the Magnolia State. AT&T is committed to serving rural Mississippi, and, to further these deployment efforts, we will receive almost $50 million a year in CAF II funding for six years. We plan to use all available technologies, including our new, innovative fixed wireless program to get the job done. Make no mistake, it’s not an easy task. Delivering broadband deeper into sparsely populated areas is like climbing a mountain – the further you go, the harder it gets. But, we are excited about the challenge we have accepted and look forward to bringing broadband service to more and more Mississippians in rural or remote locations.
We are indeed a small state spread over a lot of land. And, at AT&T, we remain committed to using the latest innovations to overcome challenges and “spread” the benefits of broadband service to more and more Mississippians.