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Closing Mississippi’s Digital Divide with the Connect and Literacy Fund

Nearly 19% of Mississippians live in poverty and almost 41% don’t have access to PCs or tablets, making closing the digital divide an especially significant challenge in the state.  

“One of the things that really struck us from the beginning is that we can build these [broadband] networks and we can have them there for people, to pass their homes, but if we don’t get them connected to the network and they don’t have the [digital] literacy or the capability to do so, what have we really done?” said Quinn Jordan, Executive Director, Mississippi Broadband Association (MSBA). “We have built a superhighway with no on and off ramps and that’s not what we want to do in Mississippi.” 

Jordan said the state has a “layering of challenges” between poverty, the high costs of deploying networks, low digital literacy, and low take rates. Not being able to afford or understand the technology leads to lower take rates. The Mississippi Broadband Association created a Connect and Literacy Fund designed to help close the digital divide through three principles: affordable connectivity, digital literacy, and device distribution. The goal is to raise a $10 million fund.  

“Our networks have to be affordable,” stated Jordan. “We’ve got to strike a balance between affordability and profitability. How we strike that balance is going to affect our take rates. Also looking at low-cost options, encouraging our ISPs to really look at ACP and ACP expansion numbers, and offering products that come close to that number because these rural areas are living on fixed incomes and it’s just not attractive if they’ve got to put another $30 to $40 on top of the ACP.” 

Jordan also cited the need for educating people on the holistic value of broadband service and its ability to deliver telehealth services and educational opportunities. MSBA is looking at how the state can bring in and scale training from other states to increase digital literacy and provide affordable device options to individuals. 

For more information on Mississippi’s approach to closing the digital divide and details on its Connect and Literacy Fund, listen to the latest Fiber for Breakfast podcast.