26 Sep Five-Year Broadband Expansion And Accessibility Action Plan Fails To Establish Broadband Equity In Mississippi, Says Mississippi Center For Justice
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
September 26, 2023
Press Contact: Nik Sibley, email@example.com
Five-Year Broadband Expansion And Accessibility Action Plan Fails To Establish
Broadband Equity In Mississippi, Says Mississippi Center For Justice
JACKSON, MS — The Broadband Expansion and Accessibility of Mississippi (BEAM) office’s Five-Year Action Plan inadequately addresses the needs of communities most impacted by broadband inequality and those experiencing the digital divide. MCJ recently submitted comments in response to BEAM’s Five-Year Action Plan as part of a requirement for the state to qualify for the $1.2 billion in federal funding from the Broadband, Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) program to expand high-speed internet access planning, infrastructure deployment, and adoption programs.
MCJ’s concerns with the Five-Year Action Plan include the following:
- Lack of technical assistance and funding resources for under-resourced and sparsely
staffed municipality and county offices or digital equity programs.
●Lack of strategies addressing broadband affordability despite only one-third of
Mississippians having access to affordable broadband.
● Lack of community voice and representation as BEAM only hosted a limited amount of community engagement meetings.
● Lack of stakeholder engagement with organizations that represent people with
language barriers or incarcerated individuals.
● Misleading data about served communities in the Delta and lack of data necessary for
the public to address possible mapping oversights.
● Lack of data on BEAM’s cost analysis for BEAD funding, including Mississippi’s
high-cost threshold for fiber deployment.
Currently, the digital divide in Mississippi disproportionately affects rural communities, low-income communities, and communities of color, with researchers finding that 38% of African Americans in the Black Rural South lack broadband access and 43% of African Americans in Mississippi lack access to both broadband and a laptop.
“Over the past year, MCJ has attempted to work with BEAM to ensure that broadband equity remains at the forefront of BEAM’s preparations for the BEAD program,” said Vangela M. Wade, President and CEO of the Mississippi Center for Justice. “Our attempts included hosting a community engagement meeting to share the concerns of rural Delta residents with BEAM and voicing our inclusion and transparency concerns to the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). MCJ is disappointed to see that, despite our efforts, many of our concerns are still present in the “Five Year Action Plan.”
“The data presented in the Five-Year Action Plan indicates a bias towards heavily-populated areas of Mississippi,” said Samira Abunemeh, Research Analyst at MCJ. “The Five-Year Action Plan presents counties with larger populations as having less broadband access than counties with smaller populations. Desoto County, a county with a population of over 190,000 is presented as the most unserved county in the Mississippi Delta, despite BEAM’s broadband audit data stating that Desoto County is the second most served county in the Delta. Focusing need on population size prolongs the digital divide.”
For twenty years, the Mississippi Center for Justice has been committed to advancing racial and economic justice, advocating that all Mississippians, no matter their zip code, have the digital tools necessary for success in today’s world. In a recently published report highlighting the impact the pandemic had on students in high-need school districts, MCJ was able to further corroborate the digital inequities that residents in the rural Delta community experience.
“During our research, we found an unsettling reality that the opportunity gap is widening for students in the Mississippi Delta, in large part due to inadequate internet access,” said Kim L. Wiley, Education Policy Analyst and Project Coordinator at MCJ and author of the report. “Students without broadband access have lower grade point averages, lower standardized test scores, and lack sufficient digital skills, all of which greatly impact their ability to be successful beyond the classroom. Half-measures, such as the 5-Year Action Plan from BEAM, are too little, too late, and aren’t adequate enough to address the digital inequities in rural schools.”
The BEAD grant program represents a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to establish broadband equity in Mississippi. For this reason, we ask that the challenge process be expanded to include a full 30 days rather than the limited time offered, as the magnitude of this program has far-reaching implications for ALL Mississippians. MCJ encourages BEAM to use this program to create plans and strategies that ensure equitable internet access across the state. Otherwise, the digital divide in Mississippi will remain. The comments, in their entirety, can be viewed here.
The Mississippi Center for Justice is dedicated to dismantling the state’s culture of inequity and injustice. Supported and staffed by attorneys and other professionals, the Center develops and pursues strategies to combat discrimination and poverty statewide.