Northern District Public Service Commissioner Brandon Presley spoke to guests at the Stennis Luncheon in Jackson on Monday about the current infrastructure crisis in the state, especially within rural areas.

He said a major part of that problem is a lack of access to broadband internet.

“High speed internet service is the electricity of the 21st Century. The fact of the matter is ┬áif you live in rural Mississippi, or anywhere in our state and you want to participate in the modern economy you have to have connectivity to do that,” said Presley.

Presley emphasized that this push in the infrastructure of the state is about education and economic development and making sure rural areas in the state feel cared about. Presley has hosted 170 town meetings, to date, to find out what residents are struggling with and how the PSC can help.

At a French Camp meeting Presley met a woman who had Lupus, but wanted to go back to school to get her LPN. So, she enrolled in online classes at Holmes Community College. However, her connectivity was so bad she had to sit outside the window of the French Camp Library to get a Wifi signal in order to take her tests and get course work.

“I have the utmost respect for this lady who is trying to pull herself up and provide for her family but we lack the infrastructure in this state to get her there,” said Presley.

The PSC is trying to find partnerships with companies to expand broadband service. He emphasized that the commission’s goal is to ensure success not just for 2018, but for 2048, 2058 and further.

Another priority of the Commission is making energy available to all residents of Mississippi, and not just one type of energy, but as many energy choices as possible. Over the last month the Commission partnered with Atmos Energy to create a program that takes private revenue to serve areas that lack natural gas services with a goal of connecting 1,000 homes a year to the energy source.

Continuing the theme of improving infrastructure and economy in Mississippi, Presley spoke on the upcoming initiative scheduled to launch on March 1, the Hire Mississippi Initiative. Presley said we are the only state in the U.S. with a project of this type that would help promote Mississippi workers, on Mississippi jobs.

“I get sick and tired of driving by highway projects, or projects funded by me and you whether that be through our utility bills or taxes, and seeing out of state car tags working on projects we are paying for when you and I know darn good and well that there are Mississippi businesses that can do that work,” said Presley.

In the past, among Mississippi’s five major utilities, there were $807 million spent on operations and maintenance alone. Of that only 30% of the contracts went to Mississippi companies, 70% went out of state.

The initiative encourages those major utility companies to hire Mississippi industries and businesses. It works by connecting Mississippi businesses with those major utility companies through hiremississippi.com. Businesses can go in, list what they do, and apply to be considered for a contract. They’ll receive information on how to bid on contracts. Even if they don’t get the bid, they can contact the company and find out why in order to improve and get it next time.

Presley said the PSC will then follow up with the companies on who they hired, and why and keep a running list of what Mississippi companies were utilized for utility work across the state.

“We can’t be for ‘Hire America, by America’ if as a state we aren’t for hiring Mississippi,” said Presley.