REALTORS® probably know better than anyone that expansion of internet access is vital to increasing economic opportunity and connecting communities in rural and underserved areas. In January, harnessing the power of Advocacy Everywhere, Mississippi REALTORS® rallied the voting public and its own members to support the Mississippi Broadband Enabling Act, which overturns a longstanding statute prohibiting electric cooperatives from providing anything but electric power. Thanks to their effort, those cooperatives are now free to carry broadband internet service throughout the state.
In the national ranks of connectivity to high-speed internet service, Mississippi holds a dubious 49th place. Clarke Wise, Mississippi REALTORS®’ Vice President of Government Relations, explains why this is an especially serious concern for the association’s members: “REALTORS® everywhere understand that communities flourish when they offer a high quality of life at a reasonable cost. Livable communities offer a variety of affordable housing choices, nearby employment opportunities, an economically viable commercial sector, great schools, and infrastructure that provide the framework for the quality of life we enjoy in our communities. In this day and age, that infrastructure must include high-speed internet access.”
He adds, “While internet access has an effect on home valuation, it also enables many of our members, and members of their communities, to work efficiently from home, access distance learning opportunities, and continue to explore telemedicine capabilities in a rural state. So, it’s not just a policy issue; it directly affects the development of our state’s economy.” After an initial membership poll indicated overwhelmingly that increasing broadband access should be the association’s top priority, the Mississippi REALTORS® set about clearing legislative obstacles.
The Mississippi Broadband Enabling Act was supported by the Farm Bureau of Mississippi, AARP of Mississippi, and the Mississippi Poultry Association, in addition to the REALTORS®. “It’s difficult to imagine a demographic not represented in this coalition!” notes Wise.
The bill passed in the state House of Representatives with a vast majority, and as it headed to the Senate, Mississippi REALTORS® launched a REALTOR® Call For Action (CFA) using REALTOR® Party Mobile Alerts, and email- and Facebook-outreach, in addition to a powerful consumer CFA. The REALTORS®’ State Political Coordinators were in touch with their legislators, and members of the Mississippi REALTORS®’ executive committee met with the Lieutenant Governor to make their case. “The response was great,” reports Wise. “The passage of this bill is a real testament to our ability to focus on our members’ number-one priority from multiple angles, bringing all our advocacy resources to accomplish our goal,” he says. “It shows that they have a voice, and it’s persuasive and valued in the political process.”
Though the restriction on electric cooperatives has been lifted, the broadband service it makes possible won’t be available overnight. Wise explains that the cooperatives would have to commit to a steep technological investment in order to provide the service, while existing internet providers are reluctant to invest in expensive infrastructure; ideally, he can envision a situation in which they come together, with internet companies leasing the existing poles of the electrical cooperatives. “What we do know,” he asserts, “is that the demand is there: I was sitting in the Senate gallery with the president of Electric Cooperative Association when the vote was taken, and as soon as the gavel came down declaring the bill’s passage, his phone started ringing, with folks wanting to know, ‘When can I sign up?!’ We’re proud to have helped move the process forward to the next level, and hope we can be a model for other states.”
To learn more about how Mississippi REALTORS® are elevating and equalizing quality of life in their state, contact Clarke R. Wise, Vice President of Government Relations, at 601-932-5241.