MSU Extension helps build digital resources inventory
RAYMOND, Miss. -- In Mississippi, 230,000 residents lack access to high-speed internet and the many benefits it offers, but the Mississippi State University Extension Service is working to help change that.
Devon Mills, an assistant Extension professor of agricultural economics, is leading an effort to build an inventory of all the organizations in the state working to promote digital skills and literacy.
This effort, called the Mississippi Digital Asset Mapping Project, is helping spread the word about a survey to help construct that inventory.
The project is in partnership with leaders of the Broadband Expansion and Accessibility of Mississippi, or BEAM, office. Results will help BEAM understand the best way to distribute the $1.2 billion in federal grant funding the state received from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act for the expansion of high-speed internet service.
“The asset mapping survey is extremely important because it helps us understand what services and programs are available and where the gaps are -- what programs are lacking and who is not being served,” Mills said.
Any organization that helps people access broadband or learn the skills to use it should take the survey, Mills said.
“These organizations might be coding academies that teach computer programing, places that help lower income people afford a computer or digital device, or places that provide broadband access to the public, like public libraries or our Extension offices,” she said.
Others include those that connect households to home broadband service, help people access affordable digital devices, offer digital skills training resources or technical support services, provide publicly available digital devices and broadband access, and fund digital inclusion work.
“There are lots of organizations that are doing great work that people don’t know about,” Mills said. “Once this project is finished, there will be a digitally accessible map on BEAM’s website that people can use to learn more about the services in their area and how to access these services.”
This information will also help BEAM understand what services are needed, which will help direct future BEAM funding decisions.
Expanding access to the internet will allow every Mississippian the opportunity to participate in the global, digital economy and expand opportunities for years to come, said BEAM director Sally Doty.
“Nearly every aspect of life can be improved by technology,” Doty said. “Telehealth can make health care more easily accessible to individuals in rural areas, and it can help improve health outcomes for these individuals.
“Broadband expansion can allow for remote work and enable Mississippians to apply for positions outside of the state without having to leave home. Students will have access to more educational opportunities and resources. Internet access can provide assistive technologies for individuals with disabilities. Bringing high-speed internet to an area can increase the value of homes, help attract more business, provide economic development opportunities and more,” she said.
Mills also coordinated another project for MSU to inform Mississippians about BEAM’s internet speed test, which helps BEAM understand where lower speeds are in the state. These speeds are logged on BEAM’s interactive map. Each of Mississippi’s eight Institutes of Higher Learning institutions worked on this project.
“The speed test is important because this will give BEAM a picture of where slower speeds are in the state, which will help them make the best decisions about funding broadband expansion in the future,” Mills said.
Other components of this project for MSU included outreach to military veterans to learn about their barriers to access; building an inventory of all MSU classes, workshops and programs that promote digital literacy; and ensuring MSU students know about the federal Affordable Connectivity Program and BEAM’s internet connectivity survey.
Complete the Digital Asset Mapping Survey on the BEAM website at www.broadbandms.com/skillssurvey.
The speed test is still available on the BEAM website at https://www.broadbandms.com/.
While Mississippians are eager to see results from this latest round of funding, Doty said it is a tedious process.
“Broadband buildout is not a quick process,” Doty said. “When working with federal grant funding, there are many requirements we must meet, including environmental reviews, permitting, archaeological reviews, and other statutory requirements that must be met before construction can begin.
“BEAM is overseeing multiple grants, all with different buildout timelines. Additionally, there are federal grants currently being distributed by the Federal Communications Commission and U.S. Department of Agriculture that are also working to bring universal service to Mississippi, each of which will have their own timelines,” she said.
Buildout related to the $1.2 billion grant is anticipated to be complete by December 2028.
The BEAM office was created by the legislature in 2021 and is charged with handling any issues related to broadband, as well as administering and monitoring federal funding allocated for broadband expansion.