Wicker, Doty, Berke announce broadband grant in the amount of $8,433,633.26 to the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians.

On Thursday, Special Representative for Broadband Andy Berke of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), U.S. Senator Roger Wicker (R-MS), and Executive Director Sally Doty of the Mississippi BEAM Office hosted a roundtable discussion with internet service providers in Mississippi about broadband funding opportunities from the NTIA.

Before the roundtable discussion, Berke, Wicker, and Doty held a media availability where they discussed the award of a broadband grant in the amount of $8,433,633.26 to the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians as a part of the Tribal Broadband Connectivity Program.

“Today we’re happy to announce a grant to the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians,” Senator Wicker said. “This is going to be one of the first opportunities for us to make sure that we have broadband in the entire tribal community and start that right here in Mississippi today.”

The Mississippi Senator said that this is one of the investments in broadband that will be brought to the State of Mississippi as a result of the Consolidated Appropriations Act 2021 and also the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.

Senator Wicker said Burke will be working “hand in glove” with Director Doty on Mississippi’s broadband build-out.

Burke noted that the $8.4 million will make sure that roughly 2,200 households in the Choctaw area are connected.

“2,200 households will be connected as a result of this grant, an amazing opportunity,” Burke said. “We have $3 billion total to connect tribal Americans. Now this is incredible because for many decades now, they have been left out of this process.”

Burke said $3 billion – $2 billion of which came through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and $1 billion through the appropriations act – “is going to be transformative for those entities.”

“This is only part of an ongoing process,” Burke continued. “The state of Mississippi is going to develop a plan that ensures that every single person in the state is connected… When that happens, we then have funding to do that.”

The Special Representative for Broadband of the NTIA said that it is not just about the connection, but also about the affordability, devices, and skills. Burke said that the first step is about making sure that every American has access at their homes.

“A hundred years ago, Mississippi saw what rural electrification meant to the state. Today, we’re experiencing a similar type of move to see how broadband is going to change rural Mississippi,” Burke stated.

When asked about the importance of making sure that people have access to broadband, Senator Wicker said that it has everything to do with the new way that we compete, do business, educate, provide medicine, and more.

“It’s part of the new economy and I view it as a way to address the ‘brain drain’ that some of us have had in small towns,” Wicker said. “We love to educate our students. We sure hate it when they decide that they need to live in a big city like Atlanta, Charlotte, Dallas or Houston.”

The Mississippi Senator continued to say that with broadband access, a Mississippian can grow up, be educated here or go out of state for education, and come back to Mississippi and be part of every opportunity that the internet gives us.

“It’s absolutely essential,” Wicker said. “We tried to do this in Congress about two decades ago and it didn’t get the job done… We are absolutely determined that this time, will be different and we will get broadband to every household and every business.”

Executive Director Doty of the Mississippi BEAM Office said that it is their intent to reach all unserved areas of Mississippi.

“There are a lot of opportunities, but there is a lot of hard work ahead and it is not going to be instantaneous,” Doty said. “We’re going to need a little time.”