About 90 people participated in Northern District Public Service Commissioner Brandon Presley’s Town Hall meeting Thursday evening, March 26, at the Union County Courthouse. Presley spoke for about 20 minutes about the issues the commission deals with and how he and his staff work to improve service for consumers.
He discussed inferior cell telephone service, poor Internet access, substandard television service, and high costs for propane gas in areas that do not have natural gas service.
There are, he says, federal funds available for improving rural utility services with much of the funding coming from small fees that every landline telephone pays each month. The money, which goes to the Federal Communication Commission, is supposed to be used to improve service. He said Union County customers pay about $60,000 annually in these small monthly telephone fees, and that a major focus of his work is trying to assure that the money rebated to the states from those fees is applied where it can do the most good.
Presley said many rural areas in Union County and elsewhere in rural areas of the United States have Internet service that is too slow, if indeed it is available at all. Cable television service is not available in many areas, which means poor service or very expensive service.
Large portions of the county have weak cell telephone service if they have any cell service at all. Presley said he and his staff work with providers, advocating better service and finding ways to make it happen.
Relatively inexpensive natural gas service is not available in many areas, which means a lot of rural residents are forced to cook and heat their homes with more expensive propane gas. Presley said one customer in Toccopola, in Pontotoc County, had a propane gas expense for one month of $1,000, and that about $200-worth of natural gas would have met the same needs for that customer, had it been available in Toccopola.
Commissioner Presley said his staff recently prepared legislation that will allow the New Albany Lights, Gas and Water (LGW) service to sell natural gas to parts of the county that do not have such service now. The bill has passed the two houses of the state legislature and has gone to the governor for his signature. The new authority would also allow LGW to sell natural gas to customers in rural Marshall County.
“I think utility customers in rural Mississippi deserve service just as good as customers in Jackson or New York City or Miami,” Presley said.
Presley took questions from the audience for over an hour after his brief speech. Members of his staff were available to take down customers’ names and contact information so that their service complaints can be investigated and dealt with.
The New Albany meeting was the 134th such Town Meeting Presley has held in places throughout north Mississippi since he first took office in 2008. He is running for a third term as Northern District Public Service commissioner in this year’s Mississippi elections. Prior to service on the Public Service Commission Presley was elected to two terms as mayor of Nettleton, MS. He was 23 years old when first elected mayor of his home town.
Many observers had thought Presley might run for the vacant congressional seat in Mississippi’s First District, and polls show he would have handily defeated any of the other announced candidates for that seat in the U.S. House of Representatives. Presley says he considered running for Congress but decided, “I could do more good in this job than from sitting in Congress in Washington.”