Funds for Broadband in Missouri

The FCC is going to invest $176 million over 10 years to connect Missourians in rural areas to high speed internet by investing in broadband research. The funds are part of the FCC’s $20 billion Rural Digital Opportunity Fund announced in February.

The FCC estimates the funds will connect more than 68,000 residents and businesses in Missouri. The Missouri Office of Broadband Development within the Missouri Department of Economic Development, reports that 1.26 million Missourians, or 20% of the state’s population, lack access to high-speed internet especially the 1.04 million living in rural areas.

Dr. Casey Canfield, Assistant Professor of Engineering Management and Systems Engineering at Missouri S&T, interviewed officials from 16 of the 19 Regional Planning Commissions (RPC). RPCs are quasi-governmental agencies created by legislation to support local governments in how to plan and handle infrastructure improvements in the state.

The interviews with officials were conducted to determine what prevents rural communities from accessing broadband. Dr. Canfield reports, “The interviews revealed that hardware costs and financing are the biggest barriers to broadband deployment in rural communities.”

Dr. Canfield said, “In addition to these costs, RPCs should rely on federal and state funding for the time they spend discussing and planning for broadband. Also, in Missouri, some of the RPCs know more about broadband and are able to coordinate discussions on the issues, but not all members on RPC have the same level of experience with broadband.

For the next phase of Dr. Canfield’s research, she will look at electric cooperatives in rural communities. She reports that people view electric co-ops as the natural organization to become internet service providers in rural areas. However, many co-ops see it as too risky with a very low return on investment.

Dr. Canfield suggests that in the short term broadband might not have a good return on the investment, but in the long term, it could spur more economic development in rural areas. If areas don’t have access to the internet, the question is will people want to live there?

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