Ask Me Anything! With Sally Doty, Director of the Office of Broadband Expansion and Accessibility of Mississippi (BEAM)

Ask Me Anything! With Sally Doty, Director of the Office of Broadband Expansion and Accessibility of Mississippi (BEAM) Banner Image

Jan 6, 2023


About Our Distinguished Guest

Sally Burchfield Doty was named by Governor Tate Reeves as the first director of the Office of Broadband Expansion and Accessibility of Mississippi (BEAM). The new office serves as the single point of contact for broadband policy, grant funding, and administration for the State of Mississippi.

Sally is an attorney, and most recently served as the Executive Director of the Mississippi Public Utilities Staff. Previously she served three terms in the Mississippi Senate representing Southwest Mississippi, serving as Vice Chair of Judiciary Division A and Vice-Chair of Public Property. She also worked on a wide range of other issues on a whole host of other committees.

Sally grew up in Kosciusko but has lived in Brookhaven for 25 years. She is adjusting to life as an empty nester and welcomed her first grandchild in November.

Read our Innovator Spotlight profile to learn more about her, and her office's approach to getting everyone in her state access to affordable broadband.

Event Transcript

Drew Clark: I am so excited to welcome Sally Doty to talk about, well, anything, Ask Me Anything after all. No, seriously. Sally Doty is the Broadband Officer for the state of Mississippi, and there's a lot to unpack there, and we'll do that. But I wanna welcome everyone to the new year. Happy New Year. Happy Friday, first Friday of the new year. And Sally, so good to have you on board. How's the weather like in Jackson, Mississippi right now? 

Sally Doty: Thank you. It's a beautiful day. It's a sunny day, probably mid 50s and it's gonna be a beautiful weekend, I think. Our weather in Mississippi is very up and down. There are days when you have to use your air conditioner and your heater, so you never know. Every day's a new adventure with the weather.

Drew: Well, Sally, for those of our viewers here in the Broadband Grants community, the broadband community who are not in, and how did you get into the role you're in this state office in Mississippi? 

Sally: BEAM? My office was created through legislation during this past legislative session. I believe we might be one of the last couple of states to have an official broadband office. Before that time, I served 10 years in the state legislature and then had taken an appointment in 2020 to work at the public utility staff. And so in that capacity, I had administered some CARES Act funding for broadband expansion, so as we began to create this new office, of course I was involved in it a bit. I still gotta have a lot of friends in the legislature. So at one point we thought it might come to the staff and then we decided it needed to be kind of standalone underneath our department of Finance and Administration. So that is where we are. We have about six employees, and we've got a couple of contract employees, of course a lot of contractual third parties that we're working with. But through legislation, I think we were created on April 13th of this past year, and I began work on July 1. And we, I think we've done about two years worth of work in six months.

Drew: Absolutely. Absolutely. And interesting you mentioned that day April 13th, I don't know if that was a Friday the 13th, but next Friday is a Friday the 13th, and next Friday, seven days from now is this kind of deadline. It may be a soft deadline, but it's still a deadline that the National Telecommunications Information Administration has put out there to challenge the map. Let's talk about that. What are you doing over the next seven days besides pulling your hair out? What's happening in the lead up to this deadline? 

Sally: Do you think they meant to put it on a Friday the 13th? Do you think that was intentional? 

Drew: You never know.

Sally: Well, our office is extremely busy getting ready for that date. Now, we've been expecting this challenge date, we'd hoped that it would be pushed out further because we got notice of it, what, on about November 18th, the Friday before Thanksgiving, and Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year's, my kids still want me in the kitchen cooking the turkey. So it's been challenging but we have been gathering information. We are working with who is helping us put our map together and put our challenge together. And we've had some interesting events here in Mississippi that we can talk about more but we think we'll be ready on January 13th and probably then file a few more afterwards. We've already had some response from the feds on our challenge that we filed in October and had a couple of thousand locations approved. We're not quite sure why the rest of ours weren't approved. We're trying to unpack that and figure that out as well. We'll add them on to the next challenge. But we're working just as hard as everybody else and putting all that data together.

Drew: Well, we've got so much to talk about. So many great questions. In a short summary, there's you, Sally, and there's the office and BEAM. And let's actually start with you, Sally. Let's actually talk a little bit about yourself. And you mentioned this, but you just kinda skimmed over it. You spent 10 years in the Mississippi State Legislature. Let's talk about that. How did you get interested in politics, becoming a legislator of the great state of Mississippi? What was the motivator in your mind to do this, Sally? 

Sally: I am a Mississippian born and bred here. I've lived in a couple of different parts of the state, but I've always had a desire to make my state better. And had early on when I was very young, thought about running for office, kinda ended up in a different location in the state where my family wasn't necessarily there, my support system. But after I'd been there for 25 years, a seat came open for the state Senate and I thought, I'm gonna run for it. So I ran, I had a tough campaign. I had four or five opponents and worked extremely hard and was elected. And I just really enjoyed it. I still miss it. I have a lot of colleagues that I communicate with all the time, but it's just such an opportunity. I mean, the Senate, especially in Mississippi...

Drew: And you were a senator, you were in the state Senate? 

Sally: I was in the Senate, yes. I ran three times, was elected three times. I had opposition every time. I was there for 10 years. After the third time I ran it was the COVID session. And man, it was tough. And the governor offered me an appointment over the public utility staff, and I took it. But I had so many great experience running for office and I think it's been, and serving. And I think that has been so helpful in where I am now in the Broadband Office because it really gave me a picture of Mississippi as a whole. I was always on a travel group in the summers in the legislature, and we would visit, 'cause I was on the public property committee, we would visit all of the universities, half of the community colleges, the mental health institutions, and the penitentiaries. I have actually spent the night on the grounds of our penitentiary in Mississippi. So it's given me a window into a lot of the needs of Mississippi that broadband is gonna fulfill.

Drew: Now, I have to bring up this story, and I'm not sure how this story came out, but I know it from Sarah Lynn Sterling and she passed on the fact that you, when you were visiting the capitol as a child, you saw the legislative chambers populated by men, and you thought, that's not very representative. Is this a true story, Sally? 

Sally: That is a true story. I was a sophomore in college and spent some time there at the capitol lobbying with the university I went to and I was sitting in the Senate Gallery in the same room where I ended up serving and I was looking down and it was all White men. Now, I love White men. I'm married to a White man.

Sally: I don't have anything against you. But as I looked down, I thought, that's just not very representative of our state, and I sure would love to be there someday. So I had that kind of dream when I was probably 19 and then couple of years later, several years later after I'd worked in my career, I had my children, they were all in high school, and I think I still had one maybe in junior high when I ran but it took me a little while to get there. But it really was a life goal of mine to be in the legislature.

Drew: Yeah. Well, you're talking of course about the state Senate in Mississippi. I'm just down the street from another capitol building, and there's been a few things going on right there, Sally. I was actually just up at the capitol, and I looked out at the gallery and I remember thinking, this is four days ago, and today, this is an increasingly diverse congress, right? We're finally seeing more people of color, more women, more colorful clothing out there. I mean, I also have the same, I mean, just 20 years ago, just 10 years ago, so many of us boring White men in boring white suits. And so how do you think this impacts Mississippi in particular, and some of the issues that you are now focused on? What are the things that are ailing the state when it comes to broadband and what is BEAM doing to try to address those challenges? 

Sally: Mississippi is such a rural state. We are an agricultural state. Agriculture is still one of our top economic interests here in Mississippi. But along with agriculture goes rural areas that are very difficult to serve. The financial model for private companies just does not work. For example, we've had a lot of electric co-ops in Mississippi that have gotten into the broadband business. In fact, I was the chair of the energy committee in the Senate and the legislature when the bill was passed, I handled the bill and the committee and on the floor to allow our electric co-ops to go into the broadband business, so many of them have gone into the broadband business. We're very excited about that. They've done a tremendous job building out, but I'll give you one example. The co-op that covers the area actually where I live nearby in my old district, they only have three meters per mile.

Sally: That's a hard model to make work, if you've got three meters per mile and then maybe somebody doesn't take service, gosh, that's very difficult. So that is our challenge that we have, is in our rural areas to have enough people to take service, to really sustain the capital investment and then sustain the operation and maintenance of it. We also have a lot of extreme weather in Mississippi, as I alluded to earlier and we have a lot of tornados, in South Mississippi we have a lot of hurricane winds that come up, so we have some challenges in not only building our infrastructure, but also maintaining our infrastructure. And there was a lot of hesitancy early on about putting the fiber on poles and having aerial fiber. But that's been very successful up in north Mississippi. A lot of the co-ops that have, well, all the co-ops that are building out they're using aerial fiber. And we've got some that's been up now for three years, I think, two or three years. And it is doing well.

Drew: Let's talk a little bit about Mississippi, about the demographics and the infrastructure, right? So I don't necessarily think this is true anymore, Sally, because of so much progress that I understand is happening in the deployment of fiber in Mississippi, but it's been said before Mississippi's kind of the bottom of a lot of measurements. What is the state of connectivity in Mississippi vis-a-vis other states in your experience right now, and how is that changing? 

Sally: So if you look at the old data, the latest FCC data, what was out there, the 477 data, we do look like we're the last, but there has been such a tremendous effort by our co-ops. We have, I think we have 25 electric co-ops. Maybe you can do the math on this. We have 25 electric co-ops that cover 80% of our state, and of those 25 co-ops, I believe 17 are building out. So that's covering a lot of areas. So I think we are in a better shape than perhaps some of the maps reflect, although we do have a tremendous amount of underserved areas as well. A tremendous amount. So what's happening here in Mississippi is our co-ops are building out in these rural areas, and then there's some other grant funding that's helped, some reconnect money that's helped. And then we are also administering, my office is administering a BEAM grant, a $32 million BEAM grant. So those are in very rural areas, but then some of our more populated areas are still reliant on older DSL, there's some fixed wireless out there that's not performing very well. So like all states, I tell everybody it's a jigsaw puzzle that we're all trying to put together.

Drew: Well, and it certainly is. And again, I'd rather be working in a state like Mississippi where you've got a lot of forward momentum. You've got a lot of tools at your disposal, and we wanna get into that. We wanna get into some of the things that BEAM is doing. But I think that the broadband audit for Mississippi shows just over 1,347,000 broadband serviceable locations, and almost 70% of those are either unserved or underserved by the standards of the infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. What is your take on that? Have you looked over those numbers? Where do you think that 1.3 million, is that number kind of too high, too low? And where do the challenges that you've made come into that? 

Sally: So just for the 1.3 million locations, we do have some areas in Mississippi that have some extremely high growth. Down on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, we are seeing a tremendous growth area down there, kind of with the economy the way it is. I was talking to some home builders the other day, actually my husband works in that area. So in the home building world, so a lot of folks who live maybe New York, somewhere cold, somewhere with a lot of people, have always wanted to move down to Florida. Perhaps it's not economically feasible for them to do that anymore. But you can come down to the Mississippi Gulf Coast. I'll make a dual commercial here. You can come down to the Mississippi Gulf Coast, buy a great house for 300,000 bucks, something that would cost almost a million down in Florida and have that kind of coastal lifestyle here on the Mississippi Coast. So they are blowing and going down there. Also in DeSoto County, which is the extreme northern part of Mississippi, they have extreme growth as well. They are right outside of Memphis. And it's a tremendous industrial area. There's... A FedEx hub is there and great growth in industry. So a lot of people are moving to DeSoto County. They've got a tremendous public school system. And so we, actually that's what our first challenge was based on, was the growth in DeSoto County. So, we've got a lot of high growth areas as well in Mississippi interspersed with our rural areas. It's a real mix.

Drew: Right, right. Well, in terms of the challenge, you did mention this earlier, you made some challenges earlier on to the fabric numbers. We've discussed the January 13th date of the challenge deadline. Just anything more you want to say about what you've put forth already or what you plan to put forward in the next seven days on that, Sally? 

Sally: We worked closely with our providers too. We had a provider who identified a... They self-identified an overstatement in some of their locations. And so we were able to work with them. And part of our challenge will be based on that. I believe they have, I don't know if you would call it a challenge, I don't know if they're challenging themselves. I don't know how you would say have, reworked their data as well. So that will make up as a big part of our challenge as well.

Drew: Right. So Sally, we've chatted a little bit about BEAM and how BEAM got formed in April. Let's talk a little bit about what you've done since you left the legislature in 2020. So what did you do at the Mississippi Public Utilities Commission or Public Service Commission, and as the pandemic kind of took hold in 2020, 2021, what was the sort of reaction that led to this great initiative in the form of BEAM? 

Sally: So at the public utility staff, the first day I walked in the door, the general counsel there said, "Well, you know we've gotta administer this CARES Act money." And I said, and I had voted on it as a member of the legislature, and we just... My focus was on some other things. I didn't realize the deadline was so quick. So if you'll recall, all of the CARES Act money had to be spent very quickly.

Drew: By December 31st, right? Was it...

Sally: Yes. So I started work there, I think July 15th. And the legislation had some deadlines in it. So we had about a month to create an application, designate unserved areas and then pick the awardees. So it was a tremendous amount of work that we had to do right when we walked in the door. Fortunately there were some great people there already existing at the staff. Our telecom director at the staff who now works for BEAM, [laughter] he had a great base of knowledge. And so we were able to grant out, it was 75 million of CARES Act money that was required to be matched. So we leveraged it into $150 million. So we administered that funds, and of course, everybody was freaking out because it had to be, this was in August. And I think the terminology, and I'm trying to remember, it was, you must have substantial progress or... But we interpreted that as, you've gotta have service to somebody. So that's what we told all the folks who were awardees. You've gotta have service out to somebody. If it is 10 people, if it is a hotspot, whatever, you've gotta have service. 'Cause they all said, "Oh, we'll have it out by February," but I gotta have it by December. And as it turned out, the deadline was extended, but we really pushed them and had some great results. And those numbers just continued to climb with what happened with that money.

Sally: So during that, I really became more involved with the ISPs through the state, began to know more of them. And we say Mississippi is a big small town. We all know each other and you don't know somebody, you know somebody that they know, but began to really have those relationships. So over in the next August we were about through, we got all the CARES Act money, it was great success. We had a lot of carriers who started to contact us about the BIP, the Broadband Infrastructure Program. And to apply for that, the NOFO required that you have a governmental partner. And all of...

Drew: I'm sorry, let me just kind of interject for a quick moment. So you're talking about 75 million in CARES Act, with coronavirus, and those were the ones with the tight deadlines. But there was a lot of liberality in how you spent it as I understand, you can correct me there. And then you had the 32 million, you just talked about the Broadband Infrastructure Program, that was kind of, let's call it a bridge program between the CARES Act and the huge tsunami of BIP funding, the broadband equity access employment, that hasn't come out the door yet. That's sort of the subject of these maps and the challenges. So we're now talking about this intermediate set of 32 million. So talk a little bit about... And the 75 million on CARES, you doubled by maps.

Sally: They doubled it. Yeah.

Drew: So talk a little about what you do with this 32 million. This next group here.

Sally: So this next group, the Broadband Infrastructure Program, I had different carriers call me and say, "Hey, it requires a governmental partner and where we wanna do our project, it's a rural area, the government there, their leaders, they're just kind of, they're not quite sophisticated enough to jump in. They're wary of it. Will you be our partner?" And at the time we were the staff, will staff be our partner? And my answer was, "No, no, no, no, [laughter] we'll not." But as it got closer to the deadline, I realized that Mississippi was gonna lose out. And so I've talked to the governor's office. Our governor, Tate Reeves, has been so supportive of all of our efforts. And so talked to the governor and there was language in our statute that allowed us to do it.

Sally: And so we took it on and now we kinda look back as to how we did that. Maybe... We had great success, but our application might have been a bit messy, but we got it all together and we bundled up 10 different projects around the state, and of course first we got in applications for like $300 million, some crazy amount. No, we're not gonna apply for that much. Everybody go back to the drawing board and give me a realistic or a smaller number. And so we put them all together and we were awarded our entire... I thought we would get five or 10 million. The pot nationally was about, it was right over 250 million, maybe 268 million. That number seems to stick in my mind. But I thought we would get five or 10 million. We got $32 million. We were the second highest awarded project. And so we are currently administering that. And really that has been so helpful to us to establish our policies and procedures that are going to be helpful as we move into the administration of the BIP program.

Drew: Okay. Speaking of broadband, my connection cut out briefly. I heard you say... You said no, no, no, to the governor. What did you say no to? 

Sally: Oh no, not to the governor. I was saying yes to him, [chuckle] I said no, no, no, to the providers who were out, who had a project and who wanted to apply for the BIP grant but needed a governmental partner and they couldn't find a local partner. So they kept calling my office, emailing me...

Drew: Right.

Sally: And I said, "Oh, no, no, no, we're not gonna do it. No, we have plenty of work. We're not gonna do it." But we did.

Drew: This raises a really key question here, Sally, and there's no way to ask it politely. How do we keep those incumbents who overpromise and underdeliver from getting the lion's share of the hundreds of millions that Mississippi is certain to get, if not billions? How do we keep them from getting that and instead keep it local, keep it with co-ops or local or startup? I mean, what are your thoughts on this? And again, I understand you got to answer politically, but what is the way that we make sure we get this effective use of money? 

Sally: I think that we have enough unserved and underserved areas in Mississippi that there is room for everybody. I do. I think there is a place for everybody. There's room for our larger carriers. There are room for our very small, some family owned rural telephone companies. There's room for everybody here in Mississippi. And that is our job at the BEAD office and BEAM office, not BEAD, BEAM, very close.

Drew: BEAM up some BEAD funds.

Sally: BEAM, yeah, that's already been used, BEAM in some of the press here, they're saying BEAM us up some internet. Yeah, you have to understand that... I will say this, my last agency I was at was the Mississippi Public Utility Staff. So it was the PUS, and I did not like that acronym. So I wanted to make sure we had a very good acronym at the broadband office.

Drew: Yeah, absolutely.

Sally: We're BEAM. But, you know, I do, I think we're gonna give that a lot of thought and consideration, but I do. I think there's a place for everyone and we're gonna see... We're about to get our Capital Projects fund money, I hope approved. It has not been approved yet, but...

Drew: How much would that be for? 

Sally: It's 162 million from Mississippi.

Drew: Okay.

Sally: Hopefully during this first quarter of this year, it will be approved. We didn't have anything, we're not building any buildings, nothing crazy in our plan. It's just large scale infrastructure projects. So we look for that to be approved. And I think that is going to kinda show us the lay of the land and perhaps what the thought is with some of our different providers.

Drew: We've got lots and lots of great questions. And we wanna get to as many as we can. One from, actually this is like three great questions from Mike Dunn. So I'm gonna break them apart here. One is, when does BEAM anticipate rolling out competitive broadband funding rounds? What's your timetable? Let's... From January 13th next Friday forward, give us your sense of the timeline for projects here.

Sally: So this is my sense of the timeline, and of course I often am a glass half full kind of person, and also know that we are always waiting on our friends at the federal government to approve things. So sometimes what I anticipate is not exactly what they can deliver on. And my goodness, they're doing things nationwide, so I understand. But I believe that our CPF funding should be approved pretty shortly. And so we will stand up that competitive grant, that first round of competitive grants, hopefully have application, the application process going, and I hope in February. And so make those awards and start that with CPF. So my thought is, February, March, we get that going. We understand the allocation will be made June 30th for the BEAD funding, so we'll know what we're working with, and then we can really work on our five-year plan and start making some headway on that as we look forward to BEAD.

Drew: Have you or are you planning to pair any of the ARPA funds? Okay. So this is kind of where these prior funds, the 32 million in BIP and/or other pools of money, will there be any pairing of that with the capital project funds or with BEAD funds? How do you see those working? 

Sally: We are not necessarily doing that right now. A lot of states use some of their state ARPA funding for broadband infrastructure and we did not in Mississippi, that we just had so many other needs, so many water, sewer infrastructure needs. That the legislature was a little cautious. I think they've still got about 300 million of ARPA funding that they have not appropriated yet. And I think if I went to them and said, "Hey, we really need some additional funding," but our thought is right now, we're just gonna kind of wait and see what our allocation is under the BEAD program and see what we can push out. And our plan is to reach everyone in Mississippi. And I was on a call, let's see, I did a Zoom call with all of the city clerks in the state of Mississippi, and there was one city clerk in a little town in the delta, Drew, Mississippi. Hey, football, is where Archie Manning's from, Drew, Mississippi, I believe, but the city clerk from Drew at the end, she was like, "You're even gonna come to Drew?" And I said, "Yes, we are going to come to Drew. We're gonna make sure there's service everywhere around the state." So that's our job. And it's a big job, isn't it? 

Drew: So, let's keep going with some great questions. Here's one from Keeley Knight. Sally, what have you found to be the most effective ways to reach local folks who may not have any inter internet connection? 

Sally: So we have put up a website for people to go to run speed test, do a survey. But of course, when we were talking with Ready to do that for us, I said, we're telling people who don't have internet to go to the speed test and go online. So we have a phone number that they can call and you can either call it, you can text it and leave your address there. But we've been doing community engagement...

Drew: Talk a little bit more about this. This is really, really creative. I mean, you've got like a text message system where you can type in, like how does that work? Just, and you've got like door hanger, like talk us through some of the marketing you're doing on this, Sally.

Sally: We are... We've got a lot... So this is what I learned in my political campaigns. People get information in different ways. Some people, you're gonna reach them with the radio, some people have like something in the mail. Some people are gonna read the newspaper. Some people want a meeting, somebody to tell them. So that's what we're gonna try to do. And through many different forms, we are going to do mail. We've been doing a tremendous amount of community engagement meetings, and we found it works really well in conjunction with a legislator from the state. We went to southwest Mississippi and had representative Angela Cockerham, who I know well. And so she kind of used her contacts to help us get a crowd, because legislators get asked about this all the time.

Sally: This is one of the big, those that are in rural areas, this is a big issue for their constituents. So she was more than happy. In fact, she's the one who called us, said, "Can you come meet with my people and tell them what's going on?" So we set up several meetings with her, very well attended, and the people were so appreciative to hear the opportunities that were coming. And I also managed some expectations. This is gonna take a little while for us to build it out, but, people who have always lived out, maybe they live out on some family land, they've always lived in a rural area, they kind of lost hope that high speed internet would come to them, and for them to hear, oh, it's gonna be there in a couple of years even, was great news. So we've had a great time with these community engagement meetings. I think I've been to the delta six times since August or September. And we're gonna continue to make these visits all around the state.

Drew: Speaking of multiple platforms to reach people, Sarah Lynn Sterling asks, if you were given a one minute ad slot during the Super Bowl that you couldn't sell, what would you fill it with? 

Sally: During the... So if my target market is all Mississippians, it would be exactly what we say on our posters, on our mailers. It is, are you tired of slow? Are you fed up with slow or no internet? If so, go to this website, do the speed test, do the survey, and it will help all Mississippians get the funding and the allocation that is necessary to build out internet service in Mississippi. But I like the... That's what we put, are you fed up with slow or no internet? It's so frustrating.

Drew: What kind of feedback are you getting from that campaign, Sally? 

Sally: I think it's been very positive. When we can do that campaign in addition to having an event that kind of creates a buzz in the community, the local paper covers it, kind of the local influencer or Facebook person kind of puts it on their Facebook. It tends to get a lot of activity. If you look at the map, that I can look at and you can tell exactly where we've been. It just, it works out.

Drew: Yeah, it works out.

Sally: That personal touch is really important.

Drew: Now, I know you've got a goal of 100,000 speed tests. How far along are we? 

Sally: We were very eager and maybe set a large goal, which is great. But, we are well on our way to that. I think we're not quite at 100,000 yet [chuckle] but this is a map that we're gonna use throughout. It's a map we're gonna use as we do this initial challenge. It's a map that we're going to use as we are making decisions in our office, is a map that will be used as we monitor progress and monitor service. So, this is, it's gonna grow and change throughout, gosh, for the next few years.

Drew: And on that note as well, I know that you've put a goal out there or target maybe, a stretch goal of emails to 70,000 public school parents, right? I mean, again, just another point on how you're using the tools, including the teachers and the administrators in the public schools to get at them, to get their parents to take tests. Talk a minute or two about that, Sally.

Sally: Sure. We have a couple of great organizations in Mississippi that do support public schools. As a parent of children in public schools, I have been on their email list as a legislator. They have been on my case when they didn't think we funded public school education enough. So, a couple of groups we're very familiar with have agreed to send out emails for us. We've also met with the Department of Education and they have already been collecting information on service in Mississippi, so we're getting some of their information as well. So, yeah, I think we had 68,000 emails sent out on our behalf that we hope will drive people. And, the timing was bad. We sent it out originally kind of during that Christmas break, so we're gonna resend that and hope to get some additional input from that. But, we have been reaching out to so many different groups. Like I said, I did a call with all of the city clerks around the state. I spoke at the supervisors. Our counties are all governed by five member board of supervisors. We have 82 counties in Mississippi, five supervisors in every county. So spoke at their fall meeting, and I have an article that's in their magazine that comes out. So, we've been really reaching out to all these different groups to kinda leverage our reach by using those groups to reach out to their people, to reach out to leaders in the community.

Drew: Sally, is broadband a luxury or a necessity? 

Sally: Oh, we think it's a necessity, and especially in rural Mississippi, it is difficult to have maybe all the teachers that you need or the healthcare, the doctors that you need, we have difficulty getting them into those rural areas. So think about the difference that connectivity makes, and for telehealth and for, you can maybe stream in the best and brightest teacher in Mississippi. Maybe you can stream them into Drew, Mississippi, but also for remote work, that just gives so many opportunities. There's a lady in my small town, now, might not be good for some people, but a lady in my small town who'd always worked for a local accountant. I think he might not have paid her what she was worth, right? And so she got a remote job with a big accounting firm living in small Brookhaven, Mississippi, and I think at least doubled her salary. So, just so many opportunities. We've got such great people in Mississippi and we've got a lot of people who've scattered out to other places, and we want those people to come back home and have the opportunities through high speed broadband to keep their job and then have a great quality of life.

Drew: I mean, that really is the promise of broadband is being able to equalize or give opportunities everywhere. And the reality, and you're kind of sketching out the case for it. How do you, are there still people who believe that broadband is a luxury and not a necessity? How do you talk to them or convince them? Or is that not a problem anymore and we're past that? 

Sally: I don't think that's a problem anymore. I think COVID made that apparent to everyone. Now, before COVID, when we talked about it it was, oh, people just wanna stream Netflix, or play video games. But once, you know, when we've gone through COVID and we had lockdowns like everybody else, and it became so apparent that you had to have that capability. And so I think that just magnified that conversation and really convinced most everyone that it is a necessity. So I don't really even talk about that anymore...

Drew: No, that's...

Sally: I kind of took that for granted, it is a necessity.

Drew: It's good to know. Yeah, that was a question by Catherine and we've got a great answer. Adam Bender has this question, Senior Editor of Comm Daily, Adam writes, do states need more time to challenge the FCC national broadband map beyond the January 13th deadline? If so, how much more time is needed? And do you think an extension is likely? 

Sally: I know that Senator Wicker from Mississippi joined on a letter asking for additional time. Additional time would certainly be helpful. And we would love to have that additional time. I would love to have at least another month, maybe a little bit more than that. We lost a month with holidays, you know, Thanksgiving, New Year's, the Christmas, it was just the time period was a compressed time period magnified the holidays, and I'm all in for broadband and I'm gonna work as hard as I can, but I, you got Christmas, there's times and it's so hard some of the data we were trying to get, for example, we were reaching out to schools and we were reaching out to some, we've reached out to some utilities, get some location data. It's just hard to get in touch with people. So it's been a difficult time period. I think if we had another month or so, it would really be helpful. I know Senator Wicker joined on, there was a letter of about six, I think senators who wrote a letter and we appreciate his advocacy there, but all that said, we're gonna get our challenge in and we feel good about it.

Drew: So what are the key things that Mississippians in state broadband grant applicants need to know about the process, including building off the timeline answers you made here, but what are the big things that those who are seeking to apply for grants in Mississippi need to know right now? 

Sally: I believe that they should go ahead and familiarize themselves with the procurement rules that you have to abide by, the federal procurement rules and then state procurement rules as well. We have had a crash course and all of that with our BIP funding, of course we've got accountants and auditors who help us, but you've got to abide by those procurement rules, and to me that seems to be the most difficult aspect to get over. So, that will be my advice.

Drew: So obviously you've got a team there, I'm super impressed with the way you've been able to go from zero to 60, or at least zero to six people in very little time. And what is it that are key... Again, granted... If it's too technical, give us your thoughts on how you wanna approach this, but this question from Alan Smith of diversity is one that I'd be interested in your thoughts on, with the focus on providing affordable broadband to areas that are unserved, dwellings inside a broadband provider service area are usually mapped as served. And this gets to this fundamental problem with the form 477 that anything in a area, a census block was considered served if one was served. Now obviously, the whole point of the serviceable location map is to get out of that, but in the meantime, we still have these issues where we talk about urban black holes that don't have service or even multiple dwelling units that don't have broadband to them. What are your thoughts on this question? 

Sally: My thoughts are those are unserved areas and we're gonna reach out to them. That's part of that puzzle we gotta put together, but it is fully our intent. I don't have the technical answers for all of that, but the majority of our unserved are in more rural areas. But our rural areas are going to have fiber fast gigabit and then we also have these underserved areas within our more urban areas. And yes, it is my intent. Our largest town is Jackson, our capital city, that's where my office is. And Jackson is about to do a tremendous amount of work with its water infrastructure, unfortunately we've been on the news a good bit with something to do with our water, and I think there are a lot of opportunities there to work with the city of Jackson, perhaps through their new distribution system, and we can shoot fiber through there, I hear that's a new technology we can do.

Drew: To just springboard on that just a bit, we're talking fiber, right? Everything that has or is that you're aware of, there's not any debate that you need fiber to get the kinds of broadband connections. Correct, Sally? 

Sally: There is no debate on that, but there is I think some question about whether or not we would have enough money to reach everybody with fiber. Because we do have one or two folks who live... People in Mississippi, we live here for a reason, most of us like to be left alone, we want a little space. We have some people who it's gonna be difficult to reach, and so there might need to be another technology use. But number one, is fiber, and that is our goal. And that we're gonna look at the money, look at our allocation, and then make some decisions based on that, if we can use some other technologies as well. We've got a company up in the delta that's part of our BIP grantees, and they're using a combination of fiber and then they shoot out the signals. And I think there are a lot of technical options out there, I certainly... I tell everybody, my background is not the technology, I'm gonna have advisors to help me with that.

Drew: Well, and I wanna ask about that and your leadership in the state, but I've gotta ask about the map behind you. Because every time there's a map, I go, wait, what is that? And my colleagues here also wanted to know. So tell me what that map is behind you there, Sally.

Sally: So that is a map that we just put together in our own office. We started doing all this, we took the... Fortunately, I had access to my... Angel Stenmark works with us. And Angel was the Director of Telecommunications for the Public Utility Staff for several years so she had been working with the CAF II build out and different things. So Angel was able to put this map together that showed all the 477 data. And then our CARES Act money, and then the BIP grant. And I think we might have something else on there too. I have one that's like this that I carry around as my visual aid when I go speak different places, but it doesn't have a legend on it. It doesn't tell what any of the colors are because I don't want it to be on the front page of the newspaper somewhere saying, "Oh, you're gonna have... “

Drew: So Sally, we got a number of questions about your proudest accomplishments as a legislator. And let's talk as well about leadership and what you've been able to do as you've come over to BEAM, having served in the legislature. So, I guess two part is, what are you most proud about having achieved when you were a senator in Mississippi? And two, how have you used those leadership skills in leading BEAM? 

Sally: I think my proudest accomplishment was... I've got a couple. So I think really shepherding the Broadband Enabling Act that allowed our co-ops to get into the business was extremely important. And so there were a lot of people, I don't take credit for that. And in fact, it was a House bill. I was in the Senate. We had a Senate version. But, I handled it in committee, handled it on the floor. I think I took a lot of questions that day. You know, when you're in the state Senate in Mississippi, you stand up to present a bill on the floor and there are 50 people out there, 51 people out there that can just ask me anything.

Sally: So you gotta be prepared for anything, you gotta be prepared for amendments. So I'm very proud of that. I also did some work on campaign finance reform in Mississippi that I was very proud of. And we made some changes to make us more in line with some federal rules that I think are very, very helpful. I also did a good bit of work on teen pregnancy. We had a very high teen pregnancy rate in Mississippi and I worked on that. I had some successes and some failures on that and different bills. But it's something I was interested in, I had at the time when I was working on that, I had teenagers in school and just saw such a need there to address some issues. So I worked on a lot of different things in the legislature. I had a great time.

Drew: Do you think Mississippi would be different if there were more women in the legislature or more diversity in the legislature? 

Sally: I do. I really do. I would like to see more women. The House is starting to get more women. The Senate it's... We've actually gone down in the number of women in the Senate. And I think that now in the age of social media, it is so hard to serve in public office. I mean... You would not believe, we had a very contentious vote in 2020 over changing our Mississippi flag. We still had a Confederate symbol on our flag. We needed to change it. If you'll remember the atmosphere in 2020, there was... Very racially charged, and we were very lucky in Mississippi that we did not have a lot of problems or riots or incidents. But I think it's because we took that action of changing that flag. But I will tell you, I've never had... I don't know if I'll call them threats. They almost were threats. But it's very difficult, very difficult to serve in the legislature now. My hat is off to anybody who runs for political office.

Drew: Did you think that would sink your chance for re-election, taking that vote? 

Sally: I knew that. I thought I could... So I had run for election three times. I'd won three times. I thought I could win again, but I knew it would be difficult. I knew it would be difficult.

Drew: Yeah. Well, thanks for bringing back the co-op point again and your leadership in that. And, again, prompts, my thinking about, Senator Wicker has had a very important role, he was chairman of the Commerce Committee when the Republicans were in control very recently, until two years ago. How has he been supportive and how do you work with other Mississippians in Washington on broadband projects? And how do you kind of see the next steps of the work, particularly like this co-op bill that allows funds to go and co-ops to do much more with broadband, right? 

Sally: Yeah, Senator Wicker and his staff, they have been so supportive. And we had an issue with our BIP grant, a procurement issue we were trying to work out. We talked to some of his staff, so, they helped us get to the right person. But all of our federal delegation, we just really try to stay in touch with them. We've been in touch... I had a long call, Zoom call with Representative Thompson's office not too long ago. They had some questions. They were concerned about the mapping with just calls. They were concerned about the mapping and wanted to understand more about the challenge process and what we were going to do. I think I still owe them one more call. And they actually gathered some information for me. They had some addresses that were not on the fabric. So, we work back and forth and I'm supportive of our federal delegation and glad to provide them information at any time. And we know those folks are all very busy. We know the staff members. We talk to the staff members and try to all keep in touch. Uh-oh.

Drew: Sally, I can't hear you now, but... Yeah.

Sally: Uh-oh. There we go.

Drew: Yeah. Sometimes it comes in. Now, this is kind of the reverse of the what did you learn from leadership question. This is from Adam Puckett. He asks, have you had to unlearn anything from politics as the head of BEAM? 

Sally: [chuckle] I do think I've had to unlearn some things. I think as we admit... We're gonna be federal grant administrators now. That's it. And in the legislature, if I didn't like a rule or a law, I had the opportunity perhaps to change it or amend it. And so a little bit different here. We've got to comply with the procurement, the rules are the rules. And also it is managing expectations, when you run for office, you can promise, oh, we're gonna cut taxes, we're gonna... We gotta manage expectations here about, you know, this money's coming, but it's gonna take a while. Like on these community engagement meetings, now, I could go out and just say, "Oh, internet's coming. It's coming, da da da." But I know it's gonna be a year or two. And so I think it's important to talk to people about that and let them know, they all understand it. They all understand that if you live out, it might take some while for some services to get to you. So, to me that's important, is to manage expectations and then these federal guidelines, man, you gotta comply.

Drew: Well, let's talk a little about compliance, about kind of organizing, systematizing. What are some of the concerns that you've had and what are some of the tools you've used and are using to adapt and to kind of systematize this application process, Sally? 

Sally: Yeah. So we are fortunate that we have great help from our outside accountants and auditors who are helping us and I think perhaps at the beginning of this, I did not realize exactly how much I would be in contact with them every day all day.

Sally: Kyle Brown is my deputy director who is watching here somewhere. And I wanna give a shout out to Kyle because he has really been the contact person and who has put all of our procedures in place. And as I said before, we're administering this BIP grant. The CARES Act grant that we did did not have as many strings on it. But with BIP, there are more procedures that you have to follow and Kyle has been putting that in place and that will carry over as we get to our BEAD allocation. And also when we did BIP, we uploaded our application. We had crazy spreadsheets and this, that, and the other. We are, our application process is we're gonna have an online application that we hope to have up for the CPF funding and certainly we'll have up for the... But we're gonna have an online application format that will make it easier for us to review and look at the different proposals. So we're looking forward to a more streamlined application process.

Drew: What can other states learn from what you've done, the work you've done with Ready, and the tools that are available through the broadband audit and other tools that are part of those opportunities, Sally? 

Sally: Most other states have had a broadband office in effect. So I don't know how much advice I wanna give. We're playing catch up just a little bit, but as I've said, we don't wanna catch up. We wanna maybe leapfrog over, not other states, but maybe leapfrog over in the service and in what we're able to provide through grants and in broadband service. So, I think every state has their particular issues. And so, I'll be glad to talk to anybody. And we've got great community engagement. I feel that we're doing... We do have our policies and procedures almost tweaked to, I don't think you ever reach perfection, but we're really working on that. And we're just every day, we're paddling every day to keep up with all the things that come down as every broadband office is, 'cause it's a tremendous amount of work.

Drew: Well, and what is, and again, it's just, it's incredibly impressive to see what you're doing with the speed test efforts, with the marketing efforts, with the outreach. This is what state broadband offices are doing and need to do. I'll say it, Sally. You need to be doing this kind of outreach where you're going out in the communities like you've been talking about, where you're making sure that we're testing, are these really valuable numbers? 

Sally: Yeah. Well, and I would, I think the advice I would give is for broadband offices to reach out either to legislators or leaders in the community, or groups of them, like the city clerks have an association. So I was able to go to the group that manages that association and reach all of them. So I think there are a lot of resources, a lot of groups that you can go to that will magnify the effect that you can have reaching out across the state.

Drew: Well, I've got two final questions for you, Sally. One of them is, what is an interesting factoid about Mississippi that our national viewers really need to know? 

Sally: Mississippi is home to the only other Grammy Museum other than in California, because Mississippi has...

Drew: What type of museum? 

Sally: Grammy. Grammy.

Drew: Grammy.

Sally: Music. Grammy.

Drew: Okay. Got it.

Sally: G-R-A-M-M-Y. Because Mississippi has such a high number of Grammy Award winners. Elvis, Leontyne Price, let's see. Now, I can't name them, this is off the top of my head, but it's just a, I don't know if Jimmy Rogers won a Grammy, but we have so many different fabulous musical groups and we really think in Mississippi we're the home of the blues and also the home of country music. So it is such an artistic state that we live in, music as well as literature. I hope everybody's reading the newest John Grisham book or, I got it for Christmas. And I live in Jackson, I have a house right down the street from Eudora Welty's home...

Drew: Wow.

Sally: That's now a museum. So, we just have such a rich history in Mississippi. I would encourage anyone, come on and visit us. We're often portrayed in a different light. I think you'll find us to be a state that's really working together to try to move into the future. Sometimes we shoot ourselves in the foot as happens. But it's really a great effort here. So we'd love... And invite you down. Come on down. I'll cook dinner for you.

Drew: Well, it is making me excited. It really is. This is the last question that we've got for you today. This comes from Bryce Rattner Keithley. Sally, as the first Director of the office of Broadband Expansion and Accessibility in Mississippi, I'm curious to know where you can find the best gas station chicken in the Magnolia State? 

Sally: So this is a great debate in Mississippi. A lot of our small towns don't have fast food restaurants, and even the ones that do, you'll find that gas stations often have the best food in town. And so I will tell you that the Chicken-on-a-Stick in Brookhaven, Mississippi, they're two different gas stations. I'm afraid they might find out if I said which one was the best. So, gas at a Chicken-On-A-Stick in Brookhaven, Mississippi on Highway 84 or Highway 51, best chicken.

Drew: Well, that will have to be our last question. It's been so exciting to spend this hour with you, Sally, to learn more about the BEAM office in Mississippi and to get a sense for the challenges you're facing and how you're approaching those at this crucial, crucial time for broadband across the country. Stay tuned for future events, Ask Anything events on Broadband Money. In the community, we've got many of them listed on the page, and there will be more coming up later this month and throughout the year. On behalf of Sally Doty, I'm Drew Clark. We'll see you next, later... Later. We'll see you later and look forward to so much more great stuff coming out of Mississippi.

Sally: We'll let you know. Thank you.

Drew: All right. Take care. Bye-bye.

Sally: Bye-bye