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Project Brings Wireless Internet Service to Rural Missouri

A new initiative led by the National Science Foundation, US Ignite and other partners is using RF over fiber (RFoF) technology to bring high-speed wireless broadband service to a rural town in Missouri.

Project OVERCOME Clinton County, Missouri.jpeg
Wireless Internet technology is being installed in Clinton County, Mo., as part of a project to expand broadband in rural locations.
Submitted Photo: Andrew Aeschliman/ United Fiber
Wireless broadband has come to rural Missouri, a test of new technology which could aid in the persistent struggle of bringing fast Internet service to non-urban America.

About 30 residents in the town of Turney now receive wireless broadband as part of an effort known as Project OVERCOME, funded by the National Science Foundation and organized among local research partners and US Ignite.

The pilot project in rural Clinton County uses wireless devices to deploy rapid broadband using RF over fiber (RFoF) technology to deliver high-speed Internet.

“It’s better than the Internet I get at home in Jefferson City!” said Casey Canfield, an assistant professor of engineering management and systems engineering at Missouri Science & Technology University, in an email to Government Technology.

Missouri S&T is a lead researcher on the project, which includes other universities and partners like Maximize NWMO, a region-wide organization charged with growing economic development, technology and educational opportunities.

At least 17 million Americans still lack basic broadband Internet service, a deficiency made all the more glaring by the COVID-19 pandemic and the instant need for remote work and remote learning.

The project in Missouri aims to test technology that can reduce costs by delivering broadband in an area without existing fiber infrastructure.

“We are trying to reduce capital costs and increase reliability by using multiple low-bandwidth technologies rather than a single high-bandwidth technology,” Canfield explained. “The intelligent router will also be open source so that others can build on our work. We’re trying to think broadly about what it means to design a wireless network that’s optimized for a rural, rather than urban, context.”

The wireless technology can have its drawbacks in areas like reliability.

“They are affected by line of sight and weather. We’re working on simulations to do a better job predicting these impacts to develop ways to compensate,” said Canfield.

Clinton County was selected as a location for a Project OVERCOME initiative, in part, because of ongoing community development efforts led by Maximize NWMO, say officials.

“This was critical for building a strong team. Clinton County represents a very typical rural county in the Midwest that is struggling with providing broadband service in small towns,” said Canfield.

Building out a fast, reliable network while reducing costs will be one of the top considerations for the one-year pilot.

“Our main strategy is to reduce capital costs and increase reliability by using multiple lower bandwidth devices that can be digitally stitched together to be equivalent to a more expensive high-bandwidth device,” said Canfield.

Project OVERCOME was launched nearly a year ago with the goal of building out five proof-of-concept broadband projects in underserved or unserved communities. This effort is funded, in part, by a $1.95 million grant from the National Science Foundation.

Other Project OVERCOME communities include Yonkers, N.Y.; Cleveland, Ohio; Blue River, Ore.; Buffalo, N.Y.; Loiza, Puerto Rico; and Detroit.
Skip Descant writes about smart cities, the Internet of Things, transportation and other areas. He spent more than 12 years reporting for daily newspapers in Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana and California. He lives in downtown Sacramento.