An initiative to expand broadband access into all of Northwest Missouri remains headed for completion before the end of 2014.

Members of a Regional Technology Planning Team gathered Tuesday at the Holiday Inn Express for a town hall meeting. Arnie Kreek, economic development planner/interim director for the Northwest Missouri Regional Council of Governments, told the team he is working on the project for state government and MoBroadbandNow. That organization, formed by Gov. Jay Nixon, has functioned since 2009 to expand broadband.

Mr. Kreek said the goal is to meet access needs for all unserved parts of the state next year.

"That was the primary focus," he told the team. "When that gets out to our rural areas, it gets challenging. It just says you have to make it available."

Members have helped identify strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats in the plan. A map depicting the region's Internet speeds is featured at www.mobroadbandnow.com.

Use of the Internet for agriculture and health care are the two greatest needs the team has identified. The health care review stressed redundancy of access routes for the hospitals in Albany, Fairfax and Maryville in case of service outages.

"That was seen as a threat," Mr. Kreek said.

Telemedicine -- the diagnosis and treatment of patients via telecommunications -- is another area. The needs of long-term health care facilities will be included and U.S. Department of Agriculture funds may assist.

"Most farmers felt they had pretty good access," Mr. Kreek said. "What they really felt was that prices were a challenge."

Garrett Derr, of Derr Equipment in Savannah, agreed that agricultural technology needs emphasis.

"Mainly now I do all the training," he told the team. "I don't think there's anywhere near enough of us. I can't be at 10 farms at one time."

Kathy Morgan, economic developer for Albany, asked if there was discussion of low-income families having access to broadband. "I see that being a huge problem in Northwest Missouri," she added, saying that city officials may give limited Wi-Fi access to a section of Albany.

A draft version of the plan is due by the end of the week.

(c) 2013 the St. Joseph News-Press (St. Joseph, Mo.)