Mississippi began expanding broadband two years ago, with a push coming in 2020 due to increased federal support from CARES Act dollars. This year, the state House and Senate are hoping to continue that emphasis with several bills.

Representative Scott Bounds (R) explained his bill, HB 505, which would create the Broadband Accessibility Act and promote grant funding between state and private entities to continue expanding accessibility throughout Mississippi.

“It institutes a broadband grant program where a broadband provider could apply for state dollars to provide broadband in rule and unserved areas in the state,” said Bounds. The only trouble is that there is currently no money in the program.

Bounds said this bill would create the mechanism for the grants to be initiated. He hopes to see at least $10 million appropriated into the fund. This would come later in the session during the appropriations process.

The funds would not be specified for just fiber. Bounds said it is a technology neutral bill. He said each provider that fills out an application would be considered and the more match dollars that would be offered, the more it would be weighted.

This bill would compound the work that was done to expand broadband last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. After HB 1788 was passed, rural co-ops stepped up and offered $65 million, with a one for one match out of CARES Act dollars. An additional $10 million was appropriated, with the match that totaled $150 million going to broadband expansion in 2020.

If broadband were to build out everywhere in the state, Bounds estimates that it would cost over $2 billion.

Bounds was also successful in passing HB 942, which has already been transmitted to the Senate. This bill would allow the investor owned utility companies, like Mississippi Power and Entergy, to lease out the unused fiber power within their system for broadband purposes.

Bounds said there are some differences between the House and Senate bills but expects those to be worked out during conference.

The Senate has offered SB 2559 and SB 2798 which are complementary to the House’s bills.

“There are still some minor differences but at the end of the day it’s not about competition, it’s about getting broadband out to the people,” said Bounds.