When it comes to Internet usage, experts say Mississippi ranks dead last and they say that's largely because of a lack of access in rural areas. Mississippi State University Extension Service is hosting community forums hoping to gain public support to convince Internet service providers there is enough demand to warrant expanding their coverage areas.
Most Mississippians live outside the city limits. Because of that, experts say going online can be a challenge. They say in rural areas, Internet access is usually either poor or non existent.
"With Mississippi being a mostly rural state, we see that we are the number 50 out of 50 as far as states that use the Internet," said Andy Collins, Regional Broadband Coordinator. "Right now about 22 percent of Mississippians do not use the Internet at all."
Collins said there are other factors like the large amount of low income residents. However, a main reason is lack of access in rural areas. Mississippi State University Extension Service officials said expanding Internet access into rural communities would take a huge financial investment from providers.
"What we're doing with the forums as far as access we're trying to bring people together in these rural areas that don't have Internet access," Collins said. "We're trying to bring them together and we want to show the providers there are enough people here that are interested that want Internet. If you bring Internet here, there are a lot of people here who are willing to subscribe to it."
Extension Service officials said right now even people in rural areas who have Internet are usually paying a high price for very limited bandwidth. They said two or three gigabytes is usually sufficient for checking emails, but should someone try to stream videos, that will eat up bandwidth and give customers a very large bill.
"Another thing is the more providers you have, the more competition, the more it opens up and it brings prices down," said Collins. "So even if it's one or two providers, if it's $70 or $80 a month, a lot of people can't afford that."
Experts said until there is better Internet access, Mississippians will continue to be on the wrong side of the digital divide.
"It's just general knowledge. The Internet can be used for many things from checking the weather to buying and selling stocks, going online and doing your online school work. So not having access to that really just leaves the state behind," Collins said.
The Mississippi State University Extension Service has already had forums in a few towns. Another forum is scheduled for Thursday, April 24 at 6:30pm at the Stone County Courthouse in Wiggins. That morning at 10am there is also a forum at the library in Waynesboro. The Extension Service has already held meetings in Liberty and Lumberton.
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