Bill would allow Okolona Electric to offer broadband internet

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OKOLONA, MISS. (WCBI) – A Northeast Mississippi city has asked lawmakers to approve legislation that would allow its local electric company to offer broadband internet service to its customers.

Okolona Electric would like to be able to offer broadband internet service to its customers, but electric companies owned by municipalities can’t do that unless lawmakers in Jackson step in.

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“I live in the county and I can’t get internet service unless I get satellite, said
Mattie Gates, who is a customer of Okolona Electric.

Gates said she would gladly sign up for broadband service if it were offered.

That’s why city leaders have teamed up with lawmakers to get a bill passed that would allow the city-owned electric company to offer broadband service. The electric company serves more than 5,000 customers in a four-county area.

Okolona Mayor Sherman Carouthers said the need for reliable internet has become even more apparent in the wake of shutdowns over COVID-19.

“Schools and universities, telemedicine, all those things are key components in 2020 and there’s no reason for anyone to be disenfranchised at this point in 2020,” Mayor Carouthers said.

As economic liaison for the city of Okolona, Patsy Gregory has been working to try and get the legislation passed since last year, when lawmakers allowed electric cooperatives to offer broadband service. She says lawmakers know the need is dire.

“Some of our industries are using hotspot phones in the windows to get internet service, it is hampering our economic development needs, and also some of our Chickasaw offices are in Van Vleet Mississippi and they do not have adequate internet service,” Gregory said.

In the wake of COVID-19 and school shutdowns, there has been an even bigger push to get Chromebooks or tablets into the hands of every public school student in Mississippi, but people also said, without reliable internet service, it wouldn’t make much of a difference.

Mayor Carouthers said Senators Ben Suber and Chad McMahan have helped push the bill on the senate side.

He encouraged people to call their lawmakers and let them know about Okolona’s effort.

The bill should go before the full Senate this week and it is currently in a House committee.

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