Those are among the recommendations in a new report by the Mississippi NAACP and the Center for Social Inclusion.
Maya Wiley, president of the New York-based Center for Social Inclusion, which promotes racial equality, argues that Mississippi has to pay more attention to its African-American population, saying it has historically been underserved by communications providers.
“You have to pay attention to black communities in particular to make sure these communities get service,” Wiley said.
Wiley's group, along with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, note in the report that of the 10 counties in the state where the largest shares of the population have access to four or more Internet service providers, Hinds County is the only one with a black majority.
However, the list tracks the ranking of Mississippi's most populous counties pretty closely, including the top six and eight of the top 10. Other groups have focused not so much on a racial divide as a rural-urban divide in Internet access, and many black-majority counties in Mississippi are rural.
Still, the authors say the state needs to be race-conscious in promoting access.
“Communities that have been least served and communities that are low-wealth communities should be considered to truly address the digital divide as it exists in 2012,” said Derrick Johnson, president of the Mississippi state conference of the NAACP.
The report calls for:
— Demonstration projects including mobile wireless systems to improve access in majority black areas with few Internet providers and high poverty rates. Wiley pointed to a program that brought high-speed wireless service to all of Coahoma County in 2010.
— Limiting the price of high-speed access to $10 a month or $120 a year, an amount equal to 0.5 percent of the median black household income of $24,000. That compares to monthly costs that run $20 to $110 now. The report says that telecommunications subsidies or a law capping costs would achieve this.
— Requiring recipients of subsidy funds to build networks in majority-black and rural areas, as the Federal Communications Commission expands telecommunications subsidies to cover Internet access in addition to phone service.
Though the FCC has programs to build Internet networks in underserved areas using money collected from phone bills, it currently has no subsidy for monthly bills, unlike with voice service. The commission could vote to start a pilot project to subsidize high-speed access.
Johnson said that the NAACP was unable to get high-speed service from AT&T at its office near Jackson State University. U.S. Rep Bennie Thompson, D-Bolton, has had trouble getting reliable high-speed service at his office in northwest Jackson.
Kim Allen, a spokeswoman for AT&T, applauded both groups for pushing the issue.
“AT&T has a long history of working to increase broadband access and adoption and remains committed to working with groups like the NAACP to connect more Mississippians to the internet and all of the opportunities it brings,” she said in an emailed statement.
ONT THE NET
Photo: Maya Wiley