Mississippi’s Broadband Director Sally Doty uses data, charm, and legwork to expose broadband inequities Thumbnail Image

Mississippi’s Broadband Director Sally Doty uses data, charm, and legwork to expose broadband inequities

Sally Doty, the director of the office of Broadband Expansion and Accessibility Mississippi, is not afraid to tackle difficult projects. In fact, Doty has staked her career on this theme.

During her decade-long, three-term tenure as a state senator for Southwestern Mississippi, Doty, an attorney by training, worked on thorny issues that ranged from campaign finance reform to sex education for teens.

Now in her current role, she’s urging all Mississipians to gather the facts about their broadband realities and share them with her office. Since early October, Doty has embarked on an unprecedented and ambitious effort to better pinpoint how well Mississippians can access the internet by traveling to the far corners of the state with Ready’s team, and by encouraging Mississippians to crowdsource reporting on what kinds of internet service they’re really receiving. 

Doty’s effort is urgent because Mississippi is one  of the least connected states in the nation. 

Ready’s current broadband audit shows that Mississippi has just over 1, 347,000 broadband serviceable locations, and almost 70 percent of those are either unserved or underserved by IIJA standards. Several counties with some of the poorest and least educated residents show up as 100 percent unserved. 

But that could all change if the state gets access to its fair portion of the $42.5 billion in broadband grants from the federal Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. 

Doty is using her experience in running political campaigns and’s services to catapult the state into a much more connected and economically healthy future.

BEAM needs the information to challenge the Federal Communications Commission’s broadband map. The map is the federal government’s effort to show internet service providers and local governments which areas and buildings can be serviced, and where service is and isn’t currently available. But the current version is just a first draft, and the federal agency has called for the public to check its map for accuracy. The deadline is January 13th. 

The National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) will use the map to decide how to allocate $42.5 billion in broadband grants to each state through its Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment (BEAD) broadband grant program. It aims to close the digital divide by providing the funding to create affordable broadband access for everyone. 


Governor Tate Reeves signed legislation creating BEAM this April. Reeves made Doty the office’s director by creating the agency and moving all supervision of broadband grants to the office, which is a unit of Mississippi’s Department of Finance and Administration.

Doty had previously served as executive director of the Mississippi Public Utilities Staff. The Mississippi Public Utilities Staff advises members of the Mississippi Public Service Commission. 

At MPUS, Doty was charged with administering $75 million in Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act funding for broadband expansion and successfully applied for a Broadband Infrastructure Program grant from the NTIA for $32 million that bundled 10 projects across the state. 

Doty is using her canvassing and networking skills – learned as a lawmaker and political candidate – and working with’s community engagement team and mapping platform to gather as many facts as possible. 

Her office of six is shooting to persuade Mississippians to take up to 100,000 speed tests. Her office has also consulted with local providers about the national map’s accuracy. 

“In Mississippi, we do have a lot of unserved and underserved communities, who feel that they've been left out,” Doty said in a phone conversation. “We want to have solid data to make our decisions on.”

“Ready will help us get our map and our challenge together and show where the unserved and underserved areas are in Mississippi, so that we can get the appropriate share of federal funding,” she said. 

BEAD allocates $100 million to each state by default. The NTIA calculates the rest of the allocation by dividing the number of unserved and underserved locations in each state by the national number. 

The federal definition of unserved are locations that only have access to networks with 25/3 Mbps upload and download speeds and under. Unserved locations are those with access to networks with only 100/20 Mbps upload and download speeds. 

While the FCC’s national broadband map doesn’t officially consider speed test data despite BEAD’s focus on performance, states can use the data they collect to more precisely target broadband grant allocations themselves.

Grant scoring criteria and Mississippi’s definition of what is served and unserved is defined by House Bill 1029. The state’s definition of “unserved” is a location without 100/20 Mbps upload and download speeds. 

BEAMing into local communities

BEAM held its first community engagement event in Northern Mississippi in late October. But Doty has been on the road meeting with, and speaking to numerous groups to get the word out about BEAM since early last summer. Recently, Doty and her team spent two days out in Southwestern Mississippi engaging local community members (see accompanying blog post.)

Local institutions and connections are important in convincing critical masses of people to show up at events, so the office partnered with the Community Foundation of Northwest Mississippi to put it on. 

BEAM has used to establish a website where Mississippians can simultaneously take a battery of three different kinds of internet speed tests and fill out a survey about the nature of their internet access. 

Survey takers answer questions that range from the cost of their monthly internet access to the type of technology they’re using. They’re urged to take the test up to six times a week at different times of the day from their homes and fill out the surveys. They’re also asked to fill out surveys at the community events. 

“You have to reach people in different ways,” Doty said. “You've got to use every different method you can to try and reach out to people.”

It’s an all out effort. The largely agricultural state covers 48,430 square miles, and its widely dispersed (and shrinking) population of almost 3 million is just slightly bigger than the city of Chicago. Doty is quick to point out in media interviews that in her county, there are some spots where electric co-ops only have three meters a mile.

So there’s a lot of driving. Doty herself spent two days driving around Adams, Amite, Jefferson, Lincoln, Pike, and Wilkinson counties with’s community engagement team talking to Mississippi residents at 6 community events explaining why they should take the test. Much like political campaigning, the messaging is standard across different kinds of media. 

Doty had the help of a local legislative representative who called on her constituents to show up at the events. Lack of reliable broadband is a huge issue for constituents, and so the events were packed. 

As the team drove through counties that used to comprise portions of her former district, it became obvious that she is an integral part of the community. She was able to point out facts and figures about key areas and people to the team, and she also seemed to know just about everyone she met. 

Like many other lawmakers and others who visit local communities, she also faced some jaded members of the public who had been made many offers of help in the past that never materialized. When confronted by the skepticism, she acknowledged it, but carried on urging the members of the community to participate so that the state could land as much money as possible to get them connected. 

“I tell them that it is my job at the BEAM office to file the challenges and make sure all the location data is correct, but we need you because that is the best data. It’s for you to give the observational data. And so we need you to take the speed test,” she said. 

She urges community event participants to spread the word about the speed tests and surveys among their friends, whether it be in the church, or work. 

Meanwhile, one of her staffers drove around other parts of Mississippi leaving cards and posters about the broadband surveys and speed tests at gas stations, which in Mississippi are a kind of community anchor institution in of themselves because they’re the only establishments that people can stop at for miles.  

No stone left unturned 

When she’s not on the road, Doty is on the radio. She was answering questions, discussing feasibility studies and take-rates for fiber services from electric co-ops with the show’s probing-but-friendly host Robert Gallo. 

She was also giving out phone numbers that listeners could call and text if they don’t have internet access, and explaining the importance of mapping the state’s broadband reality on a popular talk radio show at 6 am just two weeks ago. She answered questions about what the state had already achieved with the millions it has collectively received with local providers through the $75 million it received through the CARES Act. 

The BEAM office worked closely with Governor Tate Reeves to issue a press release from the Governor’s office about the need to complete the survey and conduct a speed test, and that was picked up by many local media outlets. 

After the in-person community events in Fayette, Natchez, Liberty, McComb, Brookhaven, Woodville, and Magnolia, BEAM staff took a day to rest. 

Then they went to the state Capitol the following Thursday and Friday to ask state legislators to reach out to their constituents to fill out the surveys, take the tests, and call in on the provided numbers to tell the office if they don’t have service. She took some time between engagements to spend some time with her new granddaughter while speaking with on the phone. 

“We're also really encouraging state representatives to put the information out on their social media and through their networks, and their email lists –  whatever it is – because those legislators get asked about internet service all the time,” Doty said. “This gives them something to show – you know it's an action item for their constituents.”

BEAM supplied the legislators with the messaging. Constituents would likely receive a message saying: “Hey, you know, it's up to us here in Mississippi to show what the true levels of service are. So, you know: “We need you to take this survey.”

In Mississippi, kids were in the parking lots of their schools, volunteer fire departments, and local libraries. Even Rural Utilities Service Administrator Andy Berke noted that a school he visited, while in Mississippi, had a sign in the parking lot that said “for best internet service park here.”

Doty and her team are working hard to fix that. 

“We have emails going out today to about 70,000 public school parents,” Doty said in a conversation with “It's an email list of parents who are very involved. We think that will be a good resource. And we'll get a lot of response from that.”

BEAM is also working with the Tax Assessors Association to get materials into each county office as people pay their end of the year taxes over the next few weeks.  A zoom call is scheduled with all city clerks across the state, and other county officials have been contacted as well to help with the effort. 

All this information will make its way into’s cloud software servers. BEAM will be able to see it clearly through a dashboard and submit the relevant information in bulk to the FCC. 

Mississippians will also be able to see up-to-date county and city-level details of broadband performance publicly on BEAM’s website. For those worried about privacy, the information is aggregated so that no personally-identifiable information can be seen online.  

Further down the road, BEAM will be able to use the empirical information to manage grant applications it receives itself from providers. It will also be able to use the mapping system to see which areas of the state are already covered by other federal broadband grants.

For Mississippi and many rural states like it, the grant funding should be a game-changer. The state has been losing population and sits at the bottom of many lists nationally in terms of access not only to broadband, but healthcare, economic growth, education and other basics. Access to broadband is expected to change that. 

Earlier this year, the NTIA’s BEAD Deployment Program Director Evan Feinman urged providers and others to engage vigorously with their state broadband offices and local communities. 

By any measure, the BEAM office is doing its best in this regard to shine the light on the ground truth of ISP connectivity, and to illuminate a brighter path into the future for its state residents.

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