Digital Divide: Rural South Still Without High-Speed Internet - Black Enterprise

Digital Divide: Rural South Still Without High-Speed Internet

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It may be surprising that although the United States is lauded for its innovation, opportunity and wealth, the nation lags behind many countries including Finland, South Korea and Singapore when it comes to Internet access. Several areas across the country lack access to modern high-speed Internet with Mississippi being one of the states in dire need of help.

Residents like Cedric Wiggins, who resides in Hazelcrust, Mississippi, say they were promised access from AT&T and BellSouth five years ago but have yet to receive it, reports Huff Post Tech.

Mandated by the Federal Communications Commission, in 2006, Bell South and AT&T agreed to an $86 billion deal to expand Internet access in 22 states on the condition that AT&T offer broadband Internet access to all residents in the territory by the following year. AT&T also agreed to offer low-income residents access to $10 internet packages.

According to the 2010 Census, Mississippi is the poorest state in the nation and has approximately 37% of the population classified as African American. Many of these residents, like Wiggins, live without Internet access and use outdated dial-up modems. These are their only options and likely the most affordable.

Another AT&T customer repeatedly complained to the company about updating his Internet access, but was told his home was outside the access area. “You feel like you have no recourse. You can’t say ‘I’ll take my business to somebody else.’ There is nobody else,” said Billy Saul.

In 2009 President Barack Obama included $7.2 billion in the stimulus package to help expand web access to rural areas of the country. And AT&T pledged to spend $53 million dollars, much of which came from federal subsidies, to help Mississippi gain better access to internet. But for residents like Wiggins and Saul little has changed.