New Mississippi law lets electric co-ops offer internet

Gov. Phil Bryant, signs the Mississippi Broadband Enabling Act, at the Capitol in Jackson, Miss., Wednesday Jan. 30, 2019. The measure allows Mississippi's 25 electric cooperatives to form subsidiaries to offer broadband internet service, removing a ban on the member-owned utilities getting into other businesses. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

JACKSON, Miss. — Mississippi’s 25 electrical cooperatives can now offer high-speed internet service Wednesday as Gov. Phil Bryant signed a law that immediately gives them that legal authority.

Michael Callahan, CEO of Electric Cooperatives of Mississippi, said he was counseling patience as Bryant signed House Bill 366 , but the first of the power providers could begin offering internet service by the end of this year or early next year.

“Just letting people be connected to what’s going on is critical to the advancement of this state,” said House Speaker Philip Gunn, a Clinton Republican who sponsored the bill.

Callahan said 20 of the state’s 25 cooperatives have already performed feasibility studies, and three more are now planning studies. He said many of the nearly 800,000 customers cooperatives serve statewide have indicated interest in buying the service, but said cooperatives have to make sure the service will pay for itself.

“We can’t get caught up in emotion,” Callahan said. “This has to be a business decision.”

Callahan said cooperatives were meeting Wednesday to discuss applications for a share of $600 million in loans and grants the U.S. Department of Agriculture will award this year to expand service. He said cooperatives could partner among themselves or without outside vendors who have expressed interest.

Cooperatives aren’t required to offer and current customers wouldn’t be required to buy service.

The law allows cooperatives to invest money, loan money or guarantee loans to affiliates, but says they can’t use revenue from electric sales to subsidize broadband.

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