Is high speed internet worth the cost?

By JACK RYAN,

Rural Mississippi is about to see whether its desire for high-speed internet service matches the cost of providing it.

Two electric cooperatives in north Mississippi have announced plans to offer the service under rules set up a few months ago by the state Legislature.

Tallahatchie Valley Electric Power Association, based in Batesville, said it will start putting out fiber-optic cable next month as part of a plan that will take four years to complete and cost $60 million.

Tombigbee Electric Power Association, based in Tupelo, is spending $95 million on its internet system.

Tallahatchie Valley is financing the work with a mix of loans and grants. Tombigbee presumably is getting some grants as well, given the amount of spending the co-ops announced.

In fact, the planned investments are one reason for optimism that the extension of high-speed internet to rural areas will actually occur instead of just being a goal.

Electric cooperatives date to The Great Depression and have always run their businesses frugally. They do not have to make a profit, but they do have to distribute electricity at a reasonable cost. Over the decades, most of them have proven to be pretty good at that.

Given this history, the two north Mississippi co-ops would not have made their high-speed internet plans without solid information that enough of their electricity customers want the new service.

The law prevents co-ops from requiring electricity customers to buy high-speed internet, but the fact that these organizations are putting up money for fiber-optic lines shows they expect to make their money back over time.

Rural America faces a number of economic disadvantages compared to towns and larger cities. Internet access should not be one of them. Hopefully more of Mississippi’s electric cooperatives are looking at high-speed service.