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By NATHAN GREGORY
Northern District Public Service Commissioner Brandon Presley spoke at the First Baptist Church gymnasium in Maben Thursday about several objectives regarding rural Mississippi communities the PSC is addressing.
Among the topics discussed were the Zap the Gap program, the PSCâs goal to bring high-speed Internet to rural areas, utility ratepayersâ rights and the commissionâs work to strengthen the stateâs no call list to have more regulations preventing telephone solicitation.
Zap the Gap is a PSC initiative to help improve cellular service in underserved and unserved rural areas, Presley said.
âWeâve asked rural communities to tells where the service gaps are. Weâre working with the Federal Communications Commission to make sure areas in Mississippi that are unserved or underserved are in fact getting the federal money to get the towers built in those areas,â Presley said. âWeâre going to bring (larger cell phone companies) back to the table. Theyâre getting millions âŠ of dollars of federal money each year to go out and serve rural communities and I will make sure weâre getting that money to communities that need it.â
He took time in his discussion to address the need to regulate utility associations and make sure theyâre not overcharging ratepayers for necessary services.
âWhoever you get your electricity from is the only people you can get your electricity from. Where companies are monopolies, where they donât have any competition and the customer doesnât have any choice, our job at the public service commission is to regulate those companies on behalf of the customers out here who have to pay the bills,â he said.
âIt is very important that we regulate these companies on behalf of the customers â the average working-day Mississippian who just has to pay the bill. Too many times the influence and the power of the big monopolies and the big corporations outweigh the publicâs interest. One of the daily fights I have at the commission is to make sure we balance that. Customers should have a voice. Weâre elected to be that voice.â
Presley also discussed PSCâs involvement in overseeing the efficiency of rural water associations. Prelsey issued a deadline to rural water companies in January to turn over their bylaws to the PSC or face subpoenas.
âOne of the issues over the last several months has been âŠ trying to make sure our rural water associations are operating the way they should be operating. I firmly believe âŠ associations who are owned by the members should be run by the members,â he said. âWeâve begun a process of going over all those water associations bylaws to make sure how they operate and how theyâre conducting their business is in compliance with Mississippi law.â
He touched on the Ratepayersâ Bill of Rights, a 21-right legislation which went into effect in 2010 that prohibits utility entities from the practice of discontinuing services on weekends and during periods of extreme weather conditions.
âYou have to have rights to protect you. If not, the companies just do what they want to do. Weâve had a ton of calls to the commission in the past about when we would have these hot days in Mississippi and people would have their electricity cut off by the power company,â Presley said. âPeople have to pay their bill âŠ but I also believe there should be a fair humane practice by utility companies on how to treat people.â
He encouraged people who were being harassed by telephone solicitors to file complaints so the PSC can investigate and penalize violators of the no call regulation.
âWe think itâs very serious to make sure we go after the people who call folks up and try to sell them a product over the phone. A lot of times these are scams. A lot of times itâs just somebody wanting to get a hold of your personal information,â he said. âWeâre working over 9,000 open complaints right now at the commission on people calling into Mississippi and allegedly breaking our do not call law. Weâve issued more fines in the last four years than had been issued since the program was put on the books âŠ years ago.â
Presley emphasized the need for high-speed Internet to be available in rural areas so constituents can have access to more information and so school children in rural areas can have access to the same tools children in more densely populated and better served areas have.
âIn our communities where thatâs not available those children are literally being left behind the rest of the state,â he said. âFor the first time ever, federal funds will go into getting high-speed Internet in rural areas. You hear a lot in the news about education reform.
Nothing could be more reforming in education than high speed Internet for rural county children. Weâre going to be working hard to get that done.â