Index finds county well-connected with room to improve

Published 7:00 am Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Pearl River County “needs more investments in broadband infrastructure” to avoid falling into the digital divide between communities with access to ever faster Internet service and those that don’t, according to a Mississippi State University professor.

The MSU Extension Service’s Intelligent Community Institute

published a report this week that established an index of how well every county in the U.S. is performing in terms of broadband Internet connectivity.

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The Digital Divide Index ranked Pearl River County 69th out of 82 counties in the state in poor rates of connectivity.

“In other words, 68 counties in Mississippi have a larger digital divide than Pearl River,” Dr. Robert Gallardo, who oversees the institute, said in an email.

Pearl River County scored 54 on the DDI, in which a high number indicates a greater digital divide, he said. By comparison, Issaquena County scored a 95.28.

The index is figured by using a complex formula of socioeconomic factors and infrastructure and adoption data obtained from the Federal Communications Commission, according to the report.

On the socioeconomic component, Pearl River County scored a 46, Gallardo said, noting that the scale runs from 0 to 100 and a higher number “indicates specific socioeconomic characteristics are above average and may make technology adoption harder.”

The FCC wants to establish a broadband standard nationally of 25 megabits per second (Mbps) download speed and 3 Mbps upload speed, or 25/3. Download speeds are the rate at which data is transferred to a user’s device, such as viewing a video; upload speeds are the rate at which a user can put information onto the Internet, like putting a picture on Facebook.

The county’s broadband infrastructure/adoption score was 62.89. As of 2014, 13 percent of its population did not have access to 25/3 fixed broadband, and 20 to 40 percent of households had a fixed broadband connection, Gallardo said in the email. The average advertised download speed was 13 Mbps and upload speed of 2.3 Mbps, compared with a national average of 25.4 Mbps download speed and 8.2 upload, according to the report.

The county’s “average speeds need to improve as well, since they are below the national average,” Gallardo said.

According to the 2016 FCC Broadband Progress Report, Mississippi ranked last in the availability of fixed broadband technology, which doesn’t include mobile connectivity. The federal agency found 34 percent of Mississippians lack access to what the FCC considers to be high-speed Internet.