Jason Shelton

JASON SHELTON

Long before the global pandemic demanded long distance learning and telework, Northern District Public Service Commissioner Brandon Presley recognized the importance of improving broadband services in rural areas. He has been a vocal advocate for better and more accessible broadband services to rural communities and his commitment has paid off.

Just a few days ago, the Mississippi Legislature passed SB2798 by 119-3 in the House and 49-0 in the Senate to expand broadband by utilizing existing or future fiber lines built by Entergy and Mississippi Power. Our legislators are to be commended for this policy, the most aggressive since the Broadband Enabling Act in 2019.

Yesterday I was honored to be present at Robins Field where Presley issued the final documents and approval to nine electric cooperatives in North Mississippi for the release of over $91 million from the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund to bring high-speed internet service to over 42,000 homes and businesses across the region. It was a proud moment for Tupelo and our surrounding communities. On the same spot as President Franklin D. Roosevelt announced Tupelo as the first TVA city, guests witnessed the largest single day of broadband funding in Mississippi history.

Why is broadband so important? Aside from better internet access, broadband brings the opportunity for direct access to education and healthcare for rural residents who are otherwise forced to travel long distances for college courses and medical treatment. High speed internet provides rural residents access to global information and cultural resources. Broadband service provides a higher-speed of data transmission and access to the highest quality internet services such as videoconferencing for telehealth, which requires large amounts of data transmission.

With each day our world becomes more and more digital. Broadband access to Mississippi’s rural communities is essential for students to download schoolwork, for our elderly citizens to access telehealth services, as well as providing the opportunity for telecommuters to work from home. The funding of broadband services gives everyone an equal opportunity to succeed in today’s digital world.

George McLean, one of Tupelo’s most progressive and greatest leaders, adopted a regional approach to economic development. He and other leaders in our city realized the benefits of improving the quality of life for people in rural Lee county and surrounding counties. His belief then is still the best practice now: helping our neighbors rise helps all of us.

Better broadband access is a perfect example of how a regional approach will pay dividends in enhancing Tupelo and other communities to grow and prosper. It also shows how a bipartisan effort by an elected official can lead to real world benefits for all Mississippi.

Yesterday Public Service Commissioner Presley spoke about the need of broadband access, comparing its necessity to that of electricity when Tupelo was named the first TVA city. Paraphrasing his words, Presley said we will never in our lifetimes need the internet any less than we need it right now. It will only become more important.

I congratulate the public service commissioner and my friend, Brandon Presley. Thank you for your commitment and dedication to the citizens of Tupelo and all people of North Mississippi.

JASON SHELTON is the mayor of Tupelo. Readers can contact him at jason.shelton@tupeloms.gov.

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