City Broadband Proposal Dies in Mississippi Senate

A bill aimed at clearing the way for the city of Okolona to provide Internet service through existing infrastructure failed to pass a Senate vote. Lawmakers cited the need for further study of the proposal.

by Caleb Bedillion, Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal / June 15, 2020
Shutterstock/Sean Pavone

(TNS) — A bid by the city of Okolona to provide broadband Internet service has died in the state Senate.

A local and private bill filed by state Sen. Ben Suber, R-Bruce, would allow the municipality of Okolona to offer broadband Internet by using the infrastructure already owned by the city for electric power delivery, including utility poles.

The Mississippi Legislature in 2019 authorized rural electric power associations to offer Internet service, and Okolona wanted the same authority.

Suber’s bill would only have applied to Okolona. As written, it would not have authorized any other municipality to offer Internet, though amendments to local and private bills have expanded their scope before.

State Sen. Chad McMahan, R-Guntown, chairs the local and private committee in the Senate. He said he stopped the forward movement of the bill because he thinks further study is merited.

“I want to make sure the taxpayers are not at risk,” McMahan said.

The bill had previously passed the local and private committee, but McMahan halted it by sending it back to committee.

According to McMahan, he wants more information from Okolona about the feasibility and cost of providing Internet services. The state senator from Lee County indicated plans to hold legislative hearings on the issue later this year, to ensure a full and fair airing of the issue.

Okolona Mayor Sherman Carouthers criticized the decision.

“I just find it mind boggling that you would literally disenfranchise 5,000 plus individuals, many of whom have asked about broadband,” Carouthers said.

McMahan said he heard concerns from some residents of Okolona about the potential costs of the proposal, and that was one factor that led him to halt the issue for more discussion.

Carouthers dismissed concerns that taxpayers could be imperiled.

“The city, we’ve had our studies done,” the mayor said. “The city is fine.”

Okolona Electric Power Company services customers in parts of Chickasaw, Clay, Lee and Monroe counties.

House Rep. Johnathan Lancaster, D-Houston, has filed a similar local and private bill in the House, but it has not moved from committee.

©2020 the Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal (Tupelo, Miss.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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