Mississippi’s farmers, ranchers and rural citizens can expect to see more high-speed internet service options soon. The state’s 25 electrical cooperatives can now offer the services after Gov. Phil Bryant signed a law that immediately gives them that legal authority on Wednesday.
“We are thankful to Governor Bryant for signing this bill quickly,” Mississippi Farm Bureau Federation President Mike McCormick said. “Access to high speed internet is crucial for our farmers, ranchers and rural residents to live and do their jobs effectively. This measure will help improve quality of life for many across Mississippi. I was humbled to represent the Mississippi Farm Bureau Federation during this monumental occasion.”
The law will require a feasibility study and an annual audit. Cooperatives could invest money, loan money or guarantee loans to affiliates, but the bill says they can’t use revenue from electric sales to subsidize broadband.
House Speaker Philip Gunn sponsored the law. It got the early-session push that he gives to some of his priorities, aided by an April 29 deadline for cooperatives to apply for $200 million in U.S. Department of Agriculture grants to extend service to rural areas.
The USDA will take applications for another $200 million in loans and grants by May 29 and $200 million in low-interest loans by June 28. Senate Energy Committee Chairwoman Sally Doty said the deadline meant lawmakers needed to hurry, so interested cooperatives could submit applications. The law will take effect as soon as Bryant signs it.