In a little more than a week, the legislature approved a bill that supporters hope will bring broadband internet to every corner of the state.
It was a pace usually reserved for resolutions honoring high schools for winning the state championship. Or for the contributions an individual made to society.
The difference is there are high expectations for the Mississippi Broadband Enabling Act. Between most of the reporting and comments from the public, broadband will be available tomorrow or by next week at worse.
That’s a slight exaggeration, though not much of one, but the bill essentially has one key feature. And it’s a good one. The state will no longer prevent electric cooperatives from providing broadband. Removing a government regulation on any entity is always a good thing.
After that, numerous questions remain.
The first is, who will actually be served? Again, the common belief is that everyone will soon have broadband speeds at home. But we don’t know if every EPA will want to be involved in the broadband game. And if they do, we don’t know if they will serve every member in their co-op. There’s quite a difference, and cost, between bringing broadband to a suburban subdivision, that likely already has broadband from an investor-owned utility, and to the person that lives a couple miles from their nearest neighbor.
The reason AT&T, Xfinity, and C Spire have yet to enter these markets is because the business model does not work. The market does not lie.
EPAs can’t simply flip a switch and make broadband appear. Where will the money come from? While there is nothing in the bill this year, taxpayers will likely bear the burden in the future.
Most of the talk has centered about federal subsidies, which are still tax dollars even though we have this disconnect on where money in Washington comes from. And beyond that, there is the strong probability that the state will also need to be involved financially. And potentially ratepayers.
There are many bills the legislature could rush through at a similar pace. They could eliminate red tape for businesses caused by numerous government regulations, make it easier for entrepreneurs to earn a living with fewer burdensome licenses, allow parents more options in the education of their children, and lead Mississippi on the path to prosperity most states in the South have experienced.
Fortunately, they still have plenty of time.