Northern District Public Service Commissioner Brandon Presley met with a dozen or so citizens during a town hall meeting in Fulton, last week.

Presley addressed the group concerning the availability of broadband internet service, natural gas expansion, rural water association issues and his office’s effort to stop unsolicited marketing calls, frequently known as “robocalls.”

Broadband availability

Among the most pressing topics Presley covered was access to high speed internet in the most rural parts of the state. Presley likened broadband access to that of any other type of infrastructure.

“Just as important as roads and bridges, is children having access to internet in rural areas,” Presley said. “They simply cannot participate in the modern world without it. Period.”

During the meeting, Presley referenced his office’s efforts to push the passing of House Bill 366 to combat the lack of reliable internet service. Referred to as the Mississippi Broadband Enabling Act, the bill allows electric power cooperatives across the state to offer high-speed internet service to its customers.

Governor Phil Bryant signed the bill into law in January.

Presley noted more than 40,000 customers will now have more options for broadband internet service, which he believes will help lower costs and increase access.

“With Tombigbee Electric Power Association moving forward with their project and existing efforts being made by Fulton Telephone Company to provide their customers with broadband, this gets our citizens what they need and brings competition to the market,” Presley told the group. “And competition is good for the market.”

Presley was referencing an ongoing project by the Fulton Telephone Company to expand its broadband service.

Presley also noted that health care advancements can be crippled by lack of sufficient internet service. Many individuals rely on the connectivity to hospitals for their pacemakers or other lifesaving medical devices.

“Most people do have access to the internet, the problem is the speed,” Presley said. “In the modern world, we must have it to move forward.”

Natural gas expansion

Presley stated another objective of his office is to put money back in the pocket of the consumer. He believes expanding natural gas services is one way to do it.

“It’s more efficient and it puts money back in your pocket,” Presley said of natural gas. “It’s also crucial to the development of the county’s infrastructure.”

Presley mentioned the success of the City of Fulton’s $1.19 million expansion of its natural gas services into Fairview in 2018. The project included Fairview Attendance Center and will eventually add around 130 customers to its service.

He encouraged citizens who do not currently have natural gas but are interested to contact his office.

“Expanding to new areas is based on interest and we need to know that the interest is there,” Presley said.

Rural water associations

In July, Presley’s office announced the lifting of an eight-year moratorium against Northeast Itawamba Water Association. The moratorium prevented the association from adding new customers due to the overcapacity of one of the association’s two water systems.

Presley said the moratorium’s lifting is the first step in the process of ensuring the water association’s customers are receiving clean water at high pressure.

“Our office, along with Mississippi Rural Water Association were able to work with the association, get their two systems tied together and get the moratorium lifted,” Presley said. “But we are not letting go until a permanent solution is in place.”

Presley said the partnering of his office and the Mississippi Rural Water Association has enabled Presley to ensure rural water associations are serving their customers to the best of their abilities.

Robocalls

Before the meeting came to a close, Presley addressed the ongoing issue with robocalls. The PSC and Secretary of State’s Office announced changes to the Telephone Solicitation Act, affecting the registration requirements of charities. Organizations paying telephone solicitors are now covered by the act and are subject to penalties of up to $10,000 if they fail to comply.

“The PSC worked directly with Secretary of State Hosemann’s office to change this law and put a stop to fraudulent charities making calls or texting,” Presley said. “This change was one way of keeping scam artists from stealing money from hard-working citizens.”

Presley also discussed at length the failure of telephone companies to do their part in combating issues with robocalls.

“We must get these phone companies on board,” Presley said. “There are industry standards, and I’m not convinced they are doing all they can do. We need all companies on board.”

Presley said his office has held over 200 town meetings. He told the group it is very important that his office make itself available to those they serve.

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