Mississippi is creating a statewide office to spend millions of federal dollars on high-speed internet development — an effort that could boost lagging rural areas.
“A person’s zip code should not determine their access to these technologies,” Republican Gov. Tate Reeves said Wednesday during a bill signing ceremony, according to the Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal.
House Bill 1029 became law immediately. It establishes the Office of Broadband Expansion and Accessibility of Mississippi, or BEAM, within the state’s Department of Finance and Administration. BEAM will manage hundreds of millions of federal dollars from the American Rescue Plan Act and the Infrastructure Investments and Jobs Act.
Reeves named former state senator Sally Doty of Brookhaven to lead the office. Doty, the state’s current executive director of utility staff, said she wants every Mississippi resident to have high-speed connectivity as soon as possible.
“My team will work diligently to establish a plan to reach unserved areas and mobilize federal funds to reach underserved areas of the state at speeds that will allow all Mississippians to participate in this digital economy that we now let’s be part of it,” Doty mentioned.
Among the 50 states and the District of Columbia, Mississippi ranks 48th in Internet coverage, speed and price of access, according to research group BroadbandNow.
Doty said she plans to start leading BEAM in June. The Civil Service Commission and the governor will need to find a new chief of staff for public services, who works with the three elected commissioners.
BEAM is supposed to create a central process for how broadband dollars are spent on projects across the state.
Because the new law creates a state office and not a commission or council, its decision-making process would likely not be covered by the state’s open meeting law. The law states that most BEAM records are confidential and exempt from state public records law. Reeves and Doty said BEAM is subject to oversight by lawmakers, the governor and the DFA.
Republican U.S. Senator Roger Wicker attended the bill signing ceremony and said the new state law was a “leap forward” in connecting more Mississippians to quality internet service. Wicker voted against the ARPA bill but for the infrastructure bill.
“Broadband connectivity is the rural electrification of the 21st century,” Wicker said.