SMCC & CLCC Host Rural Broadband Focus Group
Southwest Mississippi Community College and Copiah-Lincoln Community College hosted a focus group to talk about broadband internet with regional municipal leaders, educators, and internet service providers.
Southwest Mississippi Community College Workforce Center Director Dr. Wendy Smith addressed the group during a recent meeting.
“We (both colleges) are ready to provide training but need to know what is needed to help industry,” said Smith. “We are here to train as many people as we can if that is what you need.
Our goal for today is to better understand the needs in our region and to help put Southwest Mississippi on the map and show the magnitude of needs for broadband expansion.”
Talking points focused on the importance of broadband infrastructure throughout the state, how to help the region gain funding priority, and the expected training needs for the workforce related to the five-year network buildout in the state.
Broadband access enables people more affordable and efficient access to basic services such as health care, education, and government services. Economically, high speed internet is a priority criterion for relocating businesses.
Fully wired communities are best positioned to interest and then retain new business and encourage expansion of existing industry. Employers benefit and so does the workforce as broadband allows for more accessible career and skill development opportunities. Online and hybrid learning allows for skills improvement at any time and on any schedule. Distance learning is not only for the enrolled student, but also for the employed or underemployed who need improved or new skills.
With a priority placed on high-speed internet infrastructure, a statewide emphasis on broadband infrastructure and increasing accessibility has resulted in the establishment of the Broadband Expansion and Accessibility of Mississippi (BEAM).
This office functions under the Department of Finance and Administration and is the state’s one point of contact for all broadband issues. Currently, it is spearheading the five-year expansion plan for the state with a $1.2 Billion allocation of broadband funds in the Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) Program from the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA).
This discussion among stakeholders of Southwest Mississippi was crucial as the region needs to achieve priority. Co-Lin Workforce Center Director Luke Laird encouraged the group to get involved in the initiative by providing BEAM with much needed information for determining allocations.
“We need to paint a true picture of internet connection in Southwest Mississippi, and the public can help,” said Laird. “The BEAM office is about to manage a $1 billion grant and needs to decide on what requests will get the state more bang for the buck. Providing data that demonstrates the lack of coverage will elevate the region to the top of the list.”
Residents can test internet speed at BEAM’s website which collects speed test data for those who currently have some form of internet access at their home address. This data is purely used to make the Mississippi broadband service map. Individuals should visit the site while connected to their HOME network. Individuals with no internet service at home may text or call 601-439-2535.
Visit the test site at www.broadbandms.com and click “Test your Internet” to allow the speed tests to start running. Residents can take the Connectivity Survey, which will take approximately five minutes or less to complete, at www.broadbandms.com/connectivitysurvey. It asks a series of questions about current internet service or lack thereof.
Workforce training was also at the forefront of discussion.
Regional service providers and related infrastructure employers expressed a need to train individuals within the industry with new skills for fiber as this would allow them to keep their workforce even once the five-year initiative is complete.
Schools presented a variety of ways to provide a trained workforce such as on-the-job-training funds, workforce custom training events, and short termed training programs. While training plans are not complete, all representatives expressed commitment to the expansion of broadband and advancement of the needed skills for the initiative.
Copiah-Lincoln Community College President Dr. Dewayne Middleton and Southwest Mississippi Community College President Dr. Steve Bishop along with staff from both colleges’ Workforce Centers hosted a regional focus group discussion on broadband expansion.
Pictured (back, l to r) Robert C. McCall, Jr., Brent Duguid, Stacy Fells, Middleton, Bishop, Reginald Matthews, Dr. Wendy Smith, Charles Morris; (front, l to r) Luke Laird, Krysti Martinez, Dr. Sharolyn Magee, Robin Mitchell, and Addie Boone.