Rural Missourians Say Government Needs Better Data to Assess Where Broadband is Most Needed

A congressional representative met with constituents in rural Missouri recently to hear how the federal government can help bring high-speed Internet to their communities.

by Eric Dundon, Hannibal Courier-Post / June 1, 2018
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(TNS) — The need for better Internet service in the most remote portions of Missouri has become critical, some told a Missouri Congressman at a roundtable at Ralls County Electric Cooperative (RCEC) on Wednesday, May 30.

Rep. Sam Graves, a Republican who represents all of north Missouri in Washington, visited with industry leaders and stakeholders to find out how the federal government can better assist local providers in getting faster, more reliable Internet to more people.

Universally, they said, broadband Internet is a necessity.

"The demand for Internet is increasing" in rural areas, said Lynn Hodges, General Manager of RCEC, headquartered in New London.

While demand for television services is stagnant or falling, more people rely on Internet for things like optimizing farming equipment, completing school assignment, or running a business from home.

"They can't wait ten years. They can't wait five years," Hodges continued.

RCEC has been providing Internet services for close to a decade, investing early in fiber technology. But while investments in fiber are long-term, according to Hodges, it is quite expensive, particularly if the system must be buried underground.

Graves also heard about how mapping discrepancies hinder the ability to get broadband Internet to places that most need it.

Many people at the roundtable expressed concern that a one-time data collection of Internet coverage does not accurately reflect connectivity in a particular area. For example, if a few respondents reported satisfaction with Internet coverage in a particular census block, the entire area might be considered covered by high-speed Internet, when that might not be the case. This preliminary map, and subsequent challenge process helps allocate $4.53 billion in funds to improve broadband access to the places that need it most. Several people noted that if the mapping were more accurate, the funds would flow to more appropriate locations.

"That needs to be a priority, obviously," Graves noted.

Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) was among a handful of Senators to pen a letter to Federal Communications Commission Chair Ajit Pai encouraging a wider challenge process to the initial mapping efforts.

©2018 Hannibal Courier-Post, Mo., Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.