mcj-2019-10-02-opinion-brandon-presley

Brandon Presley

Monroe County Electric Power Association members have watched over the past two months as electric cooperatives across north Mississippi have announced their plans to bring high-speed broadband internet service to the very people that own the cooperatives – their members. Many have asked, “When will we see it announced here?” The answer to that question is now in your mailbox and in your hands.

Over the past week, MCEPA members have begun receiving a survey in the mail to gauge their interest in this very topic and whether they think their cooperative should move forward with a broadband internet project here like the others around our area. Participating in this survey by filling it out, answering it honestly and mailing it back by Nov. 1 is your personal chance to say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to this project. Answering the survey is not a contract and doesn’t bind you to take the service if offered; it only gauges your opinion. Make no mistake about it, this decision will have a lasting impact on the future of our area in terms of education, economic development, healthcare and the quality of life of our people.

All MCEPA members without a viable option for access to the outside world through broadband internet service is a recipe for disaster in a world that is ever-changing and may be one that affect our people for generations. We stand at a fork in the road of the future for our rural people in Mississippi. The world in which your children and grandchildren will grow up in will never get slower or simpler when it comes to the need for internet access. Today, almost every facet of the education process requires access to the internet. At Itawamba Community College, every course has an online component that is required, not to speak of the even greater reliance on internet access at our universities with the same becoming true at our local schools. The opportunity to get a degree from home while working and raising a family is complicated and made extremely harder for those who lack internet access, forcing them to go to a local fast-food restaurant or a friend or family member’s home to complete coursework. This isn’t the story of people in a far away place; this is happening all across our region.

The exciting world of modern healthcare isn’t available for at-home treatments for rural citizens who lack high-speed internet access. We know that access to home-based medical monitoring can and will save lives and allow our families to live a more comfortable life even while battling a health issue. I don’t think I have to spend much time convincing you that industries and businesses don’t come to areas that cannot connect to the outside world or that locally-owned small businesses lacking internet access are at a severe disadvantage because they chose to stay here, but lack high-speed access.

In 1935, the local people who then comprised the MCEPA area faced the same questions as we do today, except at that time it was about electricity. Luckily, forward-thinking leaders of that era came together for the good of their families and communities to get electricity to every house in the area. MCEPA became the first electric cooperative in America to be funded by the Rural Electrification Administration and literally helped lead rural America out of the dark. As planning for MCEPA was underway, speaking from the platform of his train in Amory on Nov. 18,1934, President Franklin D. Roosevelt said that other states and communities were watching the wonderful work being done in our area to bring electricity to all people. Now, in 2019 you have a chance to enter into a new chapter in MCEPA history.

After years of studying this issue and examples around the nation, in my heart I have a deep and abiding belief that, if we can summon the same spirit of leaders at MCEPA in the 1930s, we will not only survive in the modern, digital world, we will thrive and succeed. As Mississippians, we have seen and many times lived through the consequences of an attitude of “Well, we had a chance at one time, but nobody cared back then.” Let us not look back on this decision in years to come and say that when we had a chance, we let it pass us by. If your survey isn’t already in your mailbox, it will be soon and no matter what your opinion of this issue or this project, at this moment in history you have your chance to say “yes” or “no.” One way or another, this issue will be decided by you and I hope you’ll take time to participate.

Brandon Presley serves as Mississippi Northern District Public Service Commissioner.

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