Northern District Public Service Commissioner Brandon Presley heard complaints from telecommunications customers and those wanting improved service along with residents wishing to have natural gas availability.
Presley held the 168th of his many town hall meetings since taking office more than 10 years ago.
The Nettleton native said he continues to get an earful from residents who often turn to the PSC as a watchdog agency.
There has been many positive developments in the telecommunications industry, according to Presley, who cited the recent AT&T tower in the Eudora area as a critical step in providing high-speed internet.
He thanked DeSoto County officials like District 4 Supervisor Lee Caldwell for pushing the need for improved broadband service in the area.
AT&T officials unveiled the new tower during a ceremony last week.
"Every dirt and dusty road in Mississippi deserves to have high-speed internet," Presley said during his town hall meeting in the main courtroom of the DeSoto County Courthouse this past Thursday night. "Broadband service is the electricity of the 21st century."
Despite the technological advances and cutting edge technology that has improved high-speed internet and broadband access in rural areas, Presley said his office continues to hear its share of complaints from customers complaining about poor customer service or delays in receiving fiber optic connection.
The same telecommunications giant he praised for providing rural residents with high-speed internet, AT&T, also bears the brunt of complaints from customers who complain of poor customer service and long delays in completion of service commitments.
Much of AT&T's laying of fiber optic cable and individual home hook-ups is performed by independent contractors.
"The majority of complaints we get are about AT&T," Presley said, adding in the same breath that, "telecommunications complaints are the biggest form of complaints that we get."
Presley said people who wish to have natural gas availability also comprise a large number of requests and concerns that his office receives.
"There have been more than 3,500 (natural) gas requests in the state," Presley said. "Ninety-percent of that is in our area."
Presley said there is a formula which can tap into approximately $5 million a year that brings needed utility services to underserved areas in the district.
There are certain cost/profit ratios that make hooking up connections to those areas feasible, according to Presley.
Public/private funds through the Universal Service Fund and private partnerships between entities such as Entergy and C-Spire to bring hundreds of miles of high-speed fiber optic cable to areas were also discussed.
The Universal Service Fund is a system of telecommunications subsidies and fees managed by the United States Federal Communications Commission intended to promote universal access to telecommunications services in the United States.
Presley said there are also plans to hire qualified private contractors to perform some work to help speed up the process to get those services to rural areas, under the Hire Mississippi program.
"This is the most innovative, where-the-rubber-meets-the-road type of initiative," Presley said.
State Rep. Ashley Henley, R- Southaven, who serves House District 40, said in her estimation the PSC seemed to be the "roadblock" in some areas receiving services.
Presley disputed that, saying the PSC's role is one of assistance and not hindering any deserving area from receiving service. Providers themselves make the determination where service is feasible, not the PSC.
Presley pointed to the PSC's successful "Zap the Gap" program which identified underserved areas through data provided by rural residents in order to more accurately pinpoint areas of the state with insufficient high-speed internet and natural gas coverage.
That information was passed along to the Federal Communications Commission.
Robert Lee Long is Community Editor of the DeSoto Times-Tribune. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 662-429-6397, Ext. 252.