December 15, 2017 10:45:55 AM
In his 10 years as the Northern District's Public Service Commissioner, Brandon Presley has emerged as one of a rare breed of Mississippi politicians who seems to have escaped the clutches of narrow partisanship.
His tenure on the PSC is noted for example after example of tackling dinner-table issues, the ones that most affect Mississippians on a daily basis.
In years past, a spot on the three-member PSC was a low-key job: Commissioners simply reacted to what was brought before them, mostly ruling on rate requests or expansions by the utilities they govern.
Presley has turned the job on its ear, tirelessly pursuing programs and working with utility companies to keep rates low, provide opportunities and take care of the interests of "the little guy."
Among his campaigns are expanding services to rural communities, making sure companies that build infrastructure in our state make every effort to use Mississippi labor, denying proposed rate-hikes for customers to pay for Mississippi Power's expensive and losing gamble on the Kemper Power Plant and even a ruling that required providers to waive utility deposits for victims of domestic violence, a fight he carried all the way to the Mississippi Supreme Court.
His current collaboration with Atmos Energy to divert $50 million in company profits to extend natural gas service to rural communities is expected to allow 5,000 residents access to natural gas service, giving those customers the same options for energy -- and savings -- those in urban areas already enjoy.
The list goes on. But what you will not find on that list is anything that bears even a hint of partisanship. Perhaps that is why, in deep red Mississippi, the Democrat from tiny Nettleton has defeated Republican challengers by no fewer than 12 points in each of his three elections.
So when Presley used Thursday's appearance at the Columbus Exchange Club to blast the FCC ruling to dismantle "Net Neutrality," it's safe to say he was not arguing partisan politics.
The FCC's ruling, Presley said, gives sweeping power to large telecommunication companies who provide internet service (ISPs) to have unfettered control over the content, rates and speed of delivery of that content.
"This is very important and a very bad deal for consumers," Presley told his audience Thursday. "You and I and the FCC don't know what the full effect of this ruling will be, but common sense tells us that the internet is going to be slower and more expensive.
You and I know that if there is an ability to raise rates on a service we all need, those rates are going to go up. You just can't find anything in this that is on the side of the average consumer. Charge me more and slow down my service? I don't think so."
Not everyone who is supposed to be looking out for the interest of Mississippians agree, however.
Rep. Gregg Harper, a Republican from Starkville, was one of the 107 members of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce and its Subcommittee on Communications and Technology who signed a letter sent to the FCC supporting Thursday's repeal of the net neutrality rules. According to the Center for Responsible Politics, Harper has received $245,200 in campaign contributions from the telecom industry.
U.S. Senator Roger Wicker, who represents our area of the state, released a statement supporting Thursday's FCC decision. Wicker has received $119,700 in campaign contributions from the telecom industry.
There is a distinct difference of opinion between Presley and Harper/Wicker on this issue.
Who's view do you trust?
Slim Smith is a columnist and feature writer for The Dispatch. His email address is [email protected]
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