By JACK WEATHERLY
Mississippi ranks at or near the bottom in broadband Internet service in the United States.
Recently, two providers have expanded their service to parts of the state that are underserved, or depending the assumptions, unserved by high-speed broadband connections.
Most recently, AT&T announced it is offering its service in parts of 46 counties in Mississippi.
Based on 2015 data gathered by Mississippi State University, it appears that the expansion means that all but four counties now can get broadband service.
That apparently would leave residents in Humphreys, Sharkey, Noxubee and Issaquena counties, already among the poorest in a poor state, with a decided handicap.
But the 2015 data used the benchmark speeds of 25 megabits per second (Mbps) for downloads and 3 Mbps for uploads.
That’s because in that year the Federal Communications Commission voted to increase the definition of benchmark broadband speeds to 25 Mbps and 3 Mbps.
Thanks to the federal Connect America Fund, AT&T is putting in wireless towers sending signals to antennae on homes and businesses, though those four counties are not on its list at this point.
The expansion counties will have speeds of at least 10 Mbps and an upload speed on 1 Mbps, according to AT&T.
The Connect America Fund, an outgrowth of the old universal service fund, a minimal charge to phone users to provide service for those in isolated areas, is providing $10.8 billion over a six-year period to do what AT&T is doing in Mississippi and 17 other states.
Current FCC Chairman Ajit Pai dissented from the 2015 majority, stating that “just last month, the agency voted to spend $10.8 billion over the next six years to deploy what it called 10 Mbps ‘broadband’ so that millions of rural Americans could enjoy ‘access to advanced telecommunications and information services.’”
But then the panel voted to “arbitrarily” set the speeds at 25 and 3 Mbps, Pai said.
“At 10 Mbps,” Pai wrote in his dissent, “one family member could
stream a super HD movie, another could make an HD video call, and yet another could deliver files to and retrieve them from the cloud, all while everyone in the house sends emails, gets alerts, and checks the weather.”
Pai’s position is that the higher speeds are futuristic, catering to the latest version of high-definition streaming called 4K.
Meantime, for those who are in the areas selected by AT&T, there is a $99 installation fee and $60 a month for a one-year contract.
C Spire, the Ridgeland-based company, is taking the higher-speed road.
It announced in September that it will be extending high-speed service – 25 Mbps to select towns in the Delta and as fast as 100 Mbps in other communities and even 1 gigabit per second for small businesses. A gigabit is 1,000 times faster than a megabit.
Its position reflects one member of the majority in the 2015 FCC vote.
“We are never satisfied with the status quo. We want better. We continue to push the limit, and that is notable when it comes to technology,” FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn said.