November 8, 2013 10:05:21 AM
Nathan Gregory - [email protected]
Brandon Presley is still trying to Zap the Gap.
Thursday in a meeting at the Lowndes County Courthouse, the Mississippi Public Service Commission's Northern District commissioner updated residents on the on the latest efforts to bring high speed Internet and cell phone service to rural areas -- an infrastructure many areas across the state still lack, he said.
The MPSC's ability to bring fixed broadband connections and more cell phone towers is largely dependent on contact from the people who live in those areas and have those needs as well as the Federal Communications Commission's budget, Presley said.
"It's just as important today for small businesses in small communities and big cities like Columbus to have high-speed Internet service as it was when they brought roads and running water out 70 to 80 years ago," Presley said. "This is just an infrastructure our people in Mississippi have to have. The people of Mississippi are as good as the people in New York, and if they have a service up there, we deserve it in our state because we work just as hard as people in New York, California, Miami or anyone else do."
MPSC also signs off on funding designated to phone companies for improving cell phone coverage as well as Internet accessibility, including about $280 million this year, Presley said.
"I can tell you places in Lowndes County where you can't get cell phone service with a search warrant or a SWAT team," Presley said. "That's not just a convenience issue. It's a public safety issue. They can't call 911. They can't call an ambulance if they're relying on their cell phone. I want to make sure when (companies are) spending this money they're doing it in a way that benefits the public and doesn't benefit their personal checkbooks. We want to make sure we're getting cellular telephone coverage out to every rural nook and cranny, every big city, every neighborhood that might lack it."
Another long-standing concern of Presley's was catching violators of the state's no-call law, which prohibits companies from calling numbers that appear on the state's list of numbers not to call when selling services and goods. Currently, MPSC has more than 9,000 currently active cases that are being investigated by a small team of investigators and has already levied millions of dollars in fines to violating companies. Presley said they're always accepting any other unwanted calls people on the list receive, which have lately come from companies claiming to sell home security systems and credit cards. Some out-of-town companies use "ID spoofing," which use local numbers to call residents that are not actually being made locally.
This was a problem one town hall attendee, Arne Carlsson, said he has encountered a lot lately.
"Sometimes we are away and I have my answering machine on," Carlsson said. "These telemarketers are just talking and talking and just fill up the whole the machine."
Presley said in order for MPSC to investigate a call, the resident has to accept the call and report the name, number and time the call was made. If the number doesn't have a name listed with it, MPSC has the ability to issue a subpoena to find the identity.
"There's a way people use that deceptive practice to try to get in and make a pitch on people and try to make a sale," he said. "That's a violation of our laws, (and it's) $5,000 per call that goes out. We tell our friends in law enforcement to tell folks, please have those people report those calls to us."
For more information on Zap the Gap or the Mississippi No Call law, visit psc.state.ms.us/.
Nathan Gregory covers city and county government for The Dispatch.