Missouri Officials Make Efforts to Erase Gaps in Rural Internet

As the state renews its internet agenda, others continue promoting their individual roles in linking the countryside to the World Wide Web.

by Jessica Mulholland / August 23, 2017

(TNS) -- There's been a recent reanimation to the state of Missouri's efforts to bring broadband internet service to rural residents, with our region sharing the spotlight.

Late last week, Gov. Eric Greitens, a Republican, was joined by other officials at the Missouri State Fair in Sedalia to announce a renewal of a rural broadband initiative that had gone dormant in recent years.

Speaking at the Missouri Farm Bureau's annual state fair press conference on Aug. 17, its president, Blake Hurst, called delivery of internet service to all corners of the state an "extraordinarily crucial issue."

Officials had held a statewide-tinged broadband planning session earlier this month, said Hurst, adding that the gathering elicited a large response from stakeholders across Missouri who spoke on the lack of internet in their areas.

"It's important for business reasons," he said. "We need to have our schools connected."

An ongoing survey of fairgoers found that two-thirds of respondents do not have access to high-speed broadband service. At least 70 percent who answered the Farm Bureau's survey while visiting the fair said they are dissatisfied with the lack of high speeds for their computers.

Sen. Roy Blunt, a Republican, said Missouri needs improved broadband to effectively compete in economic development. Sen. Claire McCaskill, a Democrat, is also joining in the discussions.

"It hasn't been invested where everyone has equal access," Blunt said, adding that broadband can do things such as aiding farmers in quickly learning how to fix a broken-down combine. "This should be one of our top priorities."

And rural health services, namely telemedicine, would flourish under a stronger rural internet, he said.

Greitens said he's launched a push to bring internet to every Missouri public school district.

"It's not going to cost those school districts one dime," he said. "That's just the beginning."

The Missouri Department of Agriculture, University of Missouri Extension and the state's system of rural electric cooperatives are partnering in the broadband program.

As the state renews its internet agenda, others continue promoting their individual roles in linking the countryside to the World Wide Web. United Fiber, affiliated with United Electric Cooperative of Savannah and Maryville, said it will expand its high-speed fiber network to members in Gower by the end of the year.

Jackie Spainhower, executive director of the Northwest Missouri Regional Council of Governments, said seamless rural broadband service remains at the forefront of the region's state legislative agenda.

"It is the push for completing that final connection that is the hardest to accomplish," she said.

©2017 the St. Joseph News-Press (St. Joseph, Mo.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.