Sally Doty, Broadband Expansion and Accessibility of Mississippi (BEAM) director, is candid about the facts in Mississippi.
“Mississippi is among one of the states with the highest number of unserved locations,” Doty said. “Working with a small staff to award CPF funding, administer a current BIP grant and meet all deadlines and requirements for BEAD and the DE programs, the BEAM office needs more hours in the day.”
BEAM, which officially launched in July 2022, nonetheless, punches far above its weight class in its efforts to get Mississippi citizens engaged in their efforts to close the state’s digital divide.
Throughout her time at BEAM, Doty and her team have crisscrossed the Magnolia State to inform and engage citizens in the state’s expansion efforts. They have participated in more than 40 engagement meetings and community visits spanning schools, civic and community organizations, and town halls with local elected officials.
This includes partnering with Ready to conduct a voluntary challenge process among providers before opening its Capital Project Funds grant portal. As a result, thousands of service availability claims were able to be adjudicated prior to CPF awards being issued.
“Aggressive build outs by our electric co-ops that were not shown on the FCC map and many errors in provider reporting were easily identified and resolved,” Doty said. “This allowed for more accurate Capital Project Fund awards and will allow our BEAD challenge process to focus on true service availability issues.”
A broadband audit, conducted by Ready, showed that Mississippi has just over 1,347,000 broadband service locations, and almost 70 percent of those are either unserved or underserved by IIJA standards. Several counties with some of the state’s most economically vulnerable residents are shown as 100 percent unserved
Doty, prior to becoming BEAM director, served three terms in the Mississippi State Senate tackling tough issues, ranging from campaign finance reform to adolescent sex education, and was staff director for Mississippi Public Utilities (MPUS). Doty’s efforts to expand broadband access had begun in both of these positions.
During her time at MPUS, Doty administered $75 million in CARES Act funding for broadband expansion and successfully applied for a Broadband Infrastructure Program grant from the NTIA for $32 million bundling 10 projects across the state.
Asked what it’s like working for BEAM, Kyle Brown, BEAM’s deputy director remarked, “One minute you can be working on the 5-year plan for BEAD and the next minute be on a call trying to help smaller ISPs find access to capital and then approving reimbursement requests for our BIP grant and you then notice it is only 10:15.”
It’s our hope to continue bringing you the story of the Magnolia State’s effort to expand broadband access.
Leonard and Ben