The Mississippi Broadband Enabling Act is headed to the full Senate after the Energy Committee approved it at its meeting Tuesday.
House Bill 366— which would allow rural electric power associations to provide broadband service to their customers — will reach the Senate floor unaltered from its final House version that was approved on January 15.
Energy Committee Chairwoman and state Sen. Sally Doty (R-Brookhaven) said that one of the reasons why the bill would take effect immediately on passage was an April deadline for the EPAs, also known as co-ops, to apply for federal grants to provide broadband service.
Most bills that become law take effect on July 1, the first day of the new fiscal year.
There were two amendments that were shot down on voice votes.
State Sen. John Polk (R-Hattiesburg) wanted a 10-year requirement for EPAs to provide broadband to all of their customers.
State Sen. Josh Harkins (R-Flowood) wanted a reverse repealer, which is a legislative tactic which forces reconsideration before it can reach Gov. Phil Bryant’s desk for a signature.
Harkins voted for the bill, despite voicing some reservations on whether the EPAs would serve rural customers and not try to start building a base in more population-dense suburban areas served by EPAs.
Some of Harkins’ suburban Rankin County district is served by EPAs.
“Obviously, if this bill passes, people are going to have the expectation that they’re going to have fast internet service pretty quick,” Harkins said. “Will these companies try to reach the areas that are under served and not dense areas of population?”
Doty said that if the Legislature gives co-ops the ability to provide broadband service, it’ll be their responsibility to manage those expectations. She cautioned a constituent that stopped her in the grocery store about rural broadband.
“It’s not going to be something that’s immediate and is not necessarily going to be in all parts of the state,” Doty said. “This gives us in Mississippi another option to provide broadband services.”
The bill was authored by House Speaker Philip Gunn (R-Clinton) and it has several provisions that include:
- Removing the prohibition in state law that prohibited EPAs, also known as co-ops, from conducting any business outside providing electrical service to their customers.
- A requirement for EPAs to maintain the reliability of their electric service.
- A mandate for EPAs to conduct feasibility studies before providing broadband services.
- The EPA would be unable to use electric sales revenues to subsidize its broadband services, but it can make capital investments in the broadband entity along with utilizing loan guarantees.
- Being compelled to charge the same pole attachment fees to their broadband entity as they would to any outside private entity.
- EPAs wouldn’t be able to cut off electric service to broadband customers with delinquent bills.