by Brittny Saunders
Last week , a number of well-known websites, including Google, Wikipedia and Reddit, blacked out all or some of their content in order to protest the Stop Online Piracy Act (“SOPA”) and the Protect Intellectual Property Act (“PIPA”), two bills that they felt posed a threat to Internet freedom. The protest, which was joined by leading groups like the Center for Media Justice and Free Press, garnered the attention of an estimated 60% of likely voters and resulted in a decision by Congressional leaders to halt consideration of both bills. This episode speaks volumes about how much Americans value access to the World Wide Web and everything it has to offer. But it doesn’t tell the whole story. The fact is that for too many Americans—many of them poor people and people of color—every day is “Internet Blackout Day” because their communities don’t have the infrastructure needed to guarantee reliable access to high- speed Internet or can’t afford whatever services may be available.
Nowhere is this truer than in Mississippi. A recent study by the Center for Social Inclusion and the Mississippi State Conference NAACP found that the state’s 2nd Congressional District has both the largest population of people of color and the lowest levels of broadband access of any in the state. It also found a connection between the number of broadband providers in a community and its economic vitality: zip codes with eight or more broadband providers averaged over 800 businesses while those without access to broadband averaged a mere seven businesses on average.
This month, the CSI and MS NAACP will release a follow up report that finds that the state still has quite a way to travel on the path to broadband equity.
- Mississippians as a whole must choose among older, slower and less reliable technologies than their counterparts in other parts of the country
- However, communities where people of color are the majority are particularly underrepresented among those with the most provider options
- Broadband costs also threaten to push African American household budgets to the extreme. Residential, high-speed Internet service costs range from 1% to 6% of the median household income of African American families in Mississippi compared to 0.5% to 3% of household incomes of Whites in the state.
This is not just a problem for African American families in the Magnolia state and the communities in which they live. It is a challenge that Mississippi leaders must overcome if they expect to meet job creation, educational and public health goals. The Mississippi Broadband Connect Coalition , a group of industry, state and community leaders, recently concluded its year-long working group process and released a series of recommendations for increasing access to high-speed Internet in the state. While this is an important first step, the Coalition report doesn’t shed enough light on the factors that limit access for the communities of color that most need it. And it overlooks promising options—like community-owned broadband networks– that could increase access, affordability and adoption for these communities in particular. Mississippi state leaders must make smart, targeted investments in high-speed Internet and must recognize communities of color as sites for innovation and capable of driving the solutions to the state’s problems.
In this day and age, no strategy for economic vitality is complete without a sound high-speed Internet policy, and in a state that is nearly 40% African American no broadband policy can be successful if it ignores persistent racial gaps. Now is the time for Mississippi to lay the groundwork for a thriving 21st century economy and we hope that the state’s new leadership will seize the opportunity.
Learn more about access to broadband in Mississippi here.
Stay tuned for the release of our new report on access to broadband in Mississippi next week.