How’s your cellphone signal? Residents say South Mississippi has ‘dead zones’

The Federal Communications Commission says 90 percent of Mississippi has adequate cellphone service, but anyone who lives north of Interstate 10 or drives back roads of South Mississippi knows there are swaths of “dead zones” where cellphones don’t work.

States were given a chance to object to the FCC Mobility Fund Phase II Map that shows the areas across every state where cell service is lacking.

“We challenged it,” said Sam Britton, the Southern District Commissioner for the Public Service Commission. Rather than asking the FCC to take their word for it, Britton and fellow PSC commissioners Cecil Brown, who represents the Central District, and Brandon Presley, the Northern District commissioner, hit the road and asked the public to help.

The commissioners’ intent was not to create a new map, Britton said, but to show that many areas on the FCC map marked as having adequate service actually get just one bar or no signal.

He said people would assume they’d have good cellphone service throughout Harrison County north to Saucier. “You don’t,” he said.

As the seat of Greene County, Leakesville should have good service, he said. But stand on the courthouse steps — “No cellphone service,” he said.

Britton and his staff covered more than 1,000 miles and conducted 500 field tests. He also took to social media and asked people in the 27 counties of the Southern District to tell him about their service. Britton got hundreds of replies.

“It turned out to be an incredible use of social media,” he said, because those who responded gave specific locations.

“Of course I can’t watch the video, not enough WiFi,” one resident commented on Britton’s video post requesting help.

“We could not download in our house, talk on the phone without going outside or standing next to a window and then it was very difficult to hear the other party,” another person commented. The commenter said they switched cell phone providers and now are able to talk in the house.

‘Come to my house’

In Perkinston, outside of Lucedale, Kiln and Vancleave, on Mississippi 15 north of D’Iberville — and pretty much anywhere away from a major highway — residents reported poor coverage.

“It’s a huge problem for home health nurses in many areas of South Mississippi,” a commenter said.

“Just come to my house,” one resident said. “My family and I have to drive to the end of the road to get any type of service to make calls.”

In May U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker led the push to question the FCC’s map that will guide how $4.5 billion is spent over the next 10 years to expand mobile coverage in rural areas.

“If and when federal funds come, they’re going to look at that map,” Britton said. “This is so important we don’t want to leave it to chance. We need to make sure we get that map as accurate as possible.”