By Russell Hood
The Webster Progress-Times
Brandon Presley gave an update on issues before the Public Service Commission and fielded questions from area residents at the Eupora Community Center on
The Northern District PSC commissioner said last week’s session was his 121st Town Hall meeting since he took office.
One matter he addressed was the increase in requests for natural gas service in rural areas. More citizens are wanting this home energy source after Mississippi went though its seventh-coldest winter on record while propane prices increased greatly, he said.
“Our mission is to give you as many choices as possible,” said Presley. “We have had over 1,300 people in the last 60 days wanting natural gas service.”
He said the PSC is forwarding those names and addresses to natural gas suppliers — something that no other state is doing — for research on serving the addresses. The PSC is working with the utilities, including Atmos, to try and accommodate as many people as possible, according to Presley.
Noting that Mississippi is No. 2 in the United States when it comes to miles of natural gas lines and storage facilities, he said, “We should use that infrastructure to help Mississippians save money.”
Responding to a comment about natural gas companies providing quotes considered unreasonable for providing service in some areas, Presley said the PSC and the utilities are trying to find a middle ground through which the suppliers would be provided incentives to pay the upfront connection costs.
The commissioner also discussed his call for major Mississippi electric and natural gas utilities to extend the signup periods for new small businesses who want to take advantage of the companies’ small business incentive programs.
Some utilities’ programs are set to expire with a take-service date at the end of this year. The incentives include offerings of reduced rates and waived security deposits. Presley said they have saved over 1,600 small businesses in Mississippi more than $600,000 since inception, making the incentives the most successful utility rate program for small businesses in the nation.
Presley introduced the idea of small business incentives in 2011, and since then utilities have extended the programs annually.
“Small businesses don’t ship jobs to China and Mexico, they create jobs in Mississippi communities. We should do everything possible to help them open up, expand and create jobs. That is why I am calling for our major utilities to extend these incentive so we can help mom-and-pop shops around this state,” Presley said in a release issued the same day.
With Mississippi ranked as having the highest unemployment in America, Presley said small businesses will help the Magnolia State recovery economically.
“While Wall Street gets bailed out, Main Street seems to get piled on at every turn. This program is targeted squarely at mom-and-pop businesses who want to open up or expand.”
Those interested in the incentive packages offered by the state’s major utilities can find the programs by visiting the Public Service Commission’s Small Business Help Center at www.psc.state.ms.us.
‘Zap the Gap’
Presley also discussed the “Zap the Gap” programs designed to “level the playing field” for underserved cellular telephone and broadband customers.
Phone customers across the state pay in about $60 million a year to the FCC through the Universal Service Fund fee in their bills, and Mississippi telecommunication companies get back about $280 million to subsidize service in rural areas. However, Presley said providers cannot use federal funds for installation of the Digital Subscriber Line Access Multiplexer, also known as the “DSLAM switch.” This network device make possible faster connections to the Internet from phone lines.
The commissioner said the PSC is trying to partner with Mississippi State University to bring high-speed Internet service to rural communities and small towns.
“Bringing it (high-speed Internet) to this area will help the economic development of Webster County,” Presley said. “We are working to get that deployed.”
While the PSC has helped many areas get cellular telephone coverage, Presley said, “We haven’t gotten the blanket coverage like I want.” He urged those that lack coverage to document where bad spots are located by filling out a survey if they haven’t already done so. The survey is available on the commission’s website.
Presley also said the PSC is continuing to enforce the Mississippi Do-Not-Call law. Consumers with questions about their utility service or bill may call Presley’s office at 1-800-637-7722.