Wicker: Mississippi is leading the way toward the next tech frontier

Published 7:00 am Thursday, September 8, 2016

In rural states like Mississippi, connectivity can be a challenge. And yet, our state has become a national leader in groundbreaking technological advances.

I had the opportunity to share a few of these success stories at the University of Mississippi’s Technology Summit on August 31. The summit drew some of the world’s leading companies in technology, health care, and defense.

Championing Precision Agriculture, Telehealth

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One such success story is the use of precision agriculture by Mississippi farmers. Darrington Seward, for example, is employing technology to help with soil management, planting, harvesting, machine communications, and irrigation on his 22,000 acres of land in Louise. Mr. Seward, who has earned national attention for his use of precision agriculture, testified earlier this year at a congressional hearing about the impact of technology and high-speed broadband on the productivity and profitability of his family farm. For him and so many other farmers, precision agriculture is changing the way we grow crops and improve their yields.

Another success story is our state’s telehealth revolution. Mississippi may have the lowest ratio of physicians to patients, but the University of Mississippi Medical Center has developed technological solutions to expand health-care access, earning our state a top-eight ranking in telehealth nationally. Rural hospitals and clinics can now connect to UMMC specialists in real time, enhancing patients’ quality of care without forcing them to drive miles from home.

UMMC is championing breakthrough telehealth initiatives, from equipping first responders with lifesaving technology to giving diabetes patients in Sunflower County a way to have routine contact with their medical providers. This program for treating diabetes – the first of its kind in the country – has been so successful that plans for expansion are already underway.

Keeping Pace With Technology

There is no denying that technology has dramatically changed our lives over the past 20 years. In particular, the amount of data has skyrocketed, growing by 150,000 percent between 2007 and 2016. One expert has likened this tremendous increase to a “data tsunami.”

In 1996, Congress passed the “Telecommunications Act” – a major piece of bipartisan legislation that changed the communications landscape and paved the way for more competition and innovation. Although the spirit of that law remains relevant today, updating the policy could further help innovators keep pace with technology and build on the progress we have made.

The Geography of High-Speed Internet

A fundamental part of the ‘96 telecommunications law is the idea of universal service, in which all Americans have affordable access to high-speed Internet. Americans living in rural areas are much more likely to lack broadband access than their urban counterparts.

Closing this gap between broadband in rural and urban areas has been a top priority of mine as Chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on Communications, Technology, Innovation, and the Internet. I have repeatedly urged the Federal Communications Commission to ensure federal dollars are used efficiently and wisely to support broadband access in unserved areas. These include places like Taylor, Mississippi, where new investments in high-speed Internet were unveiled earlier this year, giving small businesses and residents the same access to broadband they would have in the Jackson metro area.

I will continue to be an advocate for Mississippi’s technological future – on our farms, in our hospitals, and at our universities.

We have borne witness to the difference that connectivity can make in creating safer, more prosperous, and healthier communities.

By U.S. Senator Roger Wicker

About Julia Arenstam

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