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Missouri Governor Directs Relief Funds to Broadband Support

Missouri Gov. Mike Parson has announced that nearly $50 million will go to support broadband expansion across the state of Missouri, including support directed at boosting telehealth and education.

(TNS) — Missouri Gov. Mike Parson announced nearly $50 million to support broadband expansion across Missouri, including support directed at telehealth and education.

The governor also signed house bill 1768, which expands the state’s existing Missouri Broadband Grant Program until 2027.

Funding for the new programs comes in large part from the Coronavirus Relief Fund and is aimed at improving resiliency and aiding in the COVID-19 response.

“Providing Missourians essential services during this time is one of our top priorities,” Parson said. “Ensuring citizens have appropriate access to telehealth and education and that they are able to telework is critical. These are not optional services and we want to do our best to increase connectivity across the state.”

Currently, an estimated 300,000 Missouri households, 195,000 K-12 students and 54,000 businesses and farms lack access to high speed internet.

The expansion includes several new initiatives.

Emergency Broadband Investment: This initiative allocates $20 million to establish a reimbursement program for broadband providers. It will assist providers with construction costs for new broadband expansion to households with students or vulnerable populations. By November 2020, this program plans to make more than 10,000 new connections in unserved and underserved areas of the state.

Telehealth: $5.25 million will support connectivity for telehealth services for vulnerable populations. In partnership with Missouri Telehealth Network, located with the University of Missouri – Columbia’s School of Medicine, more than 12,500 hotspots will be secured for use by the Federally Qualified Health Centers and the Community Mental Health Centers.

Libraries: The Office of the State Librarian within the Secretary of State’s office will deploy $2.5 million to implement and administer a grant program for Missouri’s libraries to access resources for hotspots and Wi-Fi enabled devices to support telehealth and students of higher education.

K-12 Distance Learning: The Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education will allocate $10 million of the Coronavirus Relief Fund to Local Education Agencies (LEAs) to seek reimbursement for eligible costs to increase student connectivity.

Higher Education Distance Learning: The Department of Higher Education and Workforce Development will allocate $10 million of the Coronavirus Relief Fund to public institutions to upgrade the campus broadband networks, offer students access to Wi-Fi enabled devices or hotspots and enhance learning management systems.

Broadband Technical Assistance Request: The Missouri Association of Councils of Government and DED have partnered together to apply for nearly $615,000 in grant support from the Economic Development Administration to support a pilot project for Broadband Modeling and Engineering Feasibility Plans for up to 24 counties or eight regional clusters.

©2020 The Daily Star-Journal (Warrensburg, Mo.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.