Golden Triangle to run cellular service tests

Faith Lifer
Staff Writer

Northern District Commissioner Brandon Presley came to Starkville Thursday afternoon to talk to local agencies about conducting cellular service tests throughout Northern Mississippi. The tests will determine areas which lack cellular service to ultimately preserve federal funding to improve service in those areas.

Agencies from Oktibbeha County and Lowndes County gathered for the presentation at the Oktibbeha County 911 Conference Room Thursday, where Presley went through the steps agencies can take to participate in the study. Presley said reaching out to local law enforcement, fire departments and 911 centers is essential to the study because cellular service is a public safety issue.

“This is an issue of public safety,” Presley said. “I mean, 911 does you no good if you can’t dial it, so I just appreciate the sheriffs and the fire coordinators for helping.”

Presley also acknowledged local agencies know their counties best.

“Law enforcement and volunteer firemen are already in the community so much that they know it like the back of their hand,” Presley said. “They know where these areas are— where the gaps in service are, so having their help is really going to give us many more eyes and ears in both of these counties.”

Presley said when he contacted counties in the Northern District about the tests, Oktibbeha County Sheriff Steve Gladney and Lowndes County Sheriff Mike Arledge were two of the first department heads to reach out to him.

“They were some of our earlier volunteers in sheriff’s offices to help us with this effort,” Presley said. “We’re here to go over the procedure and explain what has got to be done and make sure we’re given the information to get the most out of this.”

The app being used for the study is the FCC Speed Test app. Presley said the Mississippi Public Service Commission needs the data from the tests by Nov. 15 to send to the Federal Communications Commission by Nov. 26. The end goal of the study is to preserve federal funding for cellphone towers.

“The end goal is to document the exact areas that lack service to preserve federal funding for cellphone towers in those areas,” Presley said. “The issue we’re looking at is, we’re set in the state to lose $84 million this year for cellular telephone towers in rural areas.”

Presley said the data on service could combat that loss.

“That money will be gone if we don’t document the areas in Mississippi that lack service,” Presley said. “We want to make sure we preserve these dollars for not only now but in the future.”

Presley said he also thinks it’s important to know where bad cellular service is for public safety and personal reasons.

“It is paramount in this whole effort of trying to document the areas that lack service,” Presley said. “And many of the cellular telephone carriers show an area covered, but in fact, when we go out and take speed tests and look at that, in our experience, that’s not the case.”

“Public safety comes first,” Presley said. “But part of this is an investigation into where in fact customers are getting service for a service they're paying for.”

Oktibbeha Fire Coordinator Kirk Rosenhan said the tests are needed in Oktibbeha County.

“Because we’ve got some dead spots here,” Rosenhan said. “Especially down in Sturgis.”

For Oktibbeha County Sheriff’s Office participation, Gladney said he would assign certain deputies to conduct the tests.

“What we’ll do is probably assign one deputy from each shift to go out and go through the county and collect all of this information and get it to them on November 15,” Gladney said. “But most of the deputies, they’re going to know where to go— they’re out in the county everyday and they know where the dead spots are.”

For Lowndes County, Arledge said deputies will conduct the tests while they are on call.

“Our deputies won’t have to do any extra work, perse. They’re going be going on calls and while they’re out there at the calls, they can check (the service),” Arledge said. “They’re going from one end of the county to the other end of the county, so while they’re going through their calls, they can easily get to it.”

Presley said any citizens can also participate.

“If there are citizens that would like to volunteer for this effort, then we would be more than happy to help,” Presley said. “If they would call our office at 800-356- 6428, we’ll be glad to take their name and number and go over the information with them.”

An unscientific poll conducted by the Starkville Daily News asked what grade out of an A, B, C, D or F Oktibbeha County residents would give the cell service in the county. Out of 77 responses, 43 percent of voters gave Oktibbeha County cell service a C. Only five percent of voters gave the cell service an A and 12 percent of voters gave the service an F.

The FCC Speed Test app is free to download for any smartphones. To conduct the test, download the app then turn off WiFi to connect to your data network. Open the app, enable locations services for the app and click “Start Test.”

The app will take around five to ten seconds to complete.

“We have 1,310 people that have already signed up in all of our counties,” Presley said. “So we’ve got an army and we’re looking forward to getting our results in at the end of November.”