By NATHAN GREGORY
Northern District Public Service Commissioner Brandon Presley will visit Maben today as part of his continuing series of Mississippi rural area stops.
The free meeting will be held at the First Baptist Church of Maben’s gymnasium from 5:30-6:30 p.m. The public is invited to attend.
Presley will discuss issues the Public Service Commission is facing and update attendees on the status of plans geared toward residents of rural areas, including the PSC’s Mississippi Ratepayers’ Bill of Rights and Zap the Gap programs. He will also hold a question-and-answer session with residents and discuss how the PSC is working with the Federal Communications Commission to implement the Connect America Fund, which is a federal program designed to bring high-speed Internet access to rural areas.
The Mississippi Ratepayers’ Bill of Rights, which was passed in 2010, prohibits utility companies from disconnecting power to homes for any reason when the National Weather Service issues an excessive heat warning or freeze warning.
The 21-right legislation also allows ratepayers to avoid discontinuation of service for non-payment during weekends and holidays observed by utility companies unless they’re open to accept payment and restore services on those days.
Zap the Gap is a program designed to bring improved cellular phone service to rural areas where wireless coverage is either weak or unavailable. PSC staff has collected consumer survey data to determine where there is high demand for improved coverage.
Presley said he hopes to make sure residents know about these programs and get their input on other issues regarding rural communities the PSC needs to address.
“Zap the Gap is designed to identify unserved areas in rural Mississippi. We’ve communicated with the FCC … to try to get cellular telephone coverage in all rural Mississippi that is just as good as the coverage metropolitan communities have. It’s important that rural areas not be left out,” Presley said. “The commission is working with carriers and companies to bring high speed internet to rural areas. We’re trying to get that engine up and running. High-speed Internet in rural communities is very important.”
Presley said he will also discuss updates in the state’s no-call list, which prevents telemarketers from calling residents who have signed up. The list has been in effect since 2003. He said the PSC office has received approximately 9,000 complaints from state residents who reported telephone solicitation and each report is investigated.
“The No Call Law is one of the most popular enforcement programs we’ve had in Mississippi. We need the public to report these calls to us,” Presley said. “We don’t throw away any complaint unless we don’t have jurisdiction. I spend a few of these meetings letting people know how they can contact us so we can get them signed up.”
Presley said the community meeting is designed to let people who reside in rural areas voice their concerns about issues they have close to home.
“The premise of this meeting is to make sure the public knows what the Public Service Commission does. It’s important for elected officials to be amongst the people in rural communities,” he said. “I want to make myself personally available to discuss these issues in Maben.”