State goal is internet available to all by 2028
BY EZRA BITTERMAN
MISSOURI NEWS NETWORK
JEFFERSON CITY — The state hopes to have reliable internet connection accessible to every household by 2028 thanks in large part to federal grants.
BJ Tanksley, director of the state’s Office of Broadband Development, gave an update at a House hearing Wednesday.
A federal program has awarded the office $1.7 billion in funding to extend broadband across the state. Only Texas and California received more federal money as part of the program. Neighboring Kansas and Illinois got $450 million and $1 billion, respectively.
In the governor’s proposed budget released last week, only $2 million of the almost $2 billion going towards broadband is from the state’s general fund.
Last year $261 million in federal American Rescue Plan Act money was allocated to broadband development. With that money 60 projects were approved to provide connection to underserved areas. Nine already have been completed, Tanksley said.
“We still have a large number of unserved locations. There is a dramatic (broadband) need for the state of Missouri,” said Tanksley.
A new online map launched by the Office of Broadband Development shows the network access level for every address in the state and that 15% of Missouri households are either unserved or underserved by an internet provider.
Internet providers have strong incentives to develop in urban areas as there are many likely customers. Building in more rural areas is less desirable as the population is smaller and lacks density.
This division can be seen on the map in Columbia as the urban center has a reliable internet connection, which tapers out in the more rural areas of the city and county. The city of Columbia has almost 100% internet connection, while the rural parts of Boone County have only about 78%, according to the map.
The billions in federal grants give companies a financial incentive to build out into underserved areas.
Connecting every home to the internet is going to require public input. The map shows specific addresses, whether a home has internet access, what providers are available, and what speeds can be expected.
In late March, the public will be able to review the map and report if there are any errors in how their home is characterized. For example, if the map says a home or business has access to internet providers, but none are available, the owner can report the discrepancy.
Then the Broadband office will review the claim and determine if it’s valid, Tanksley said. This input is essential as the state needs to be certain what areas need coverage down to the address level, he said.
Rep. Adrian Plank, D-Columbia, who represents much of Boone County, is supportive of the project but said he has concerns about potential ill will when certain communities receive coverage years before others. He said this is especially concerning given that most of the program is funded by grants which may be allocated slower than state funds.
Another federal program is providing the state $24 million to assist in digital equity. The broadband office plans to use this to improve public understanding of the digital economy, cybersecurity, and ways to become a greater internet participant, according to Tanksley.
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