For years, rural Missouri residents have suffered from a lack of broadband internet access. New federal funding totaling $24.1 million will expand that access for nearly 10,000 Missouri homes over the next decade, the Federal Communications Commission announced Monday.
Funding applications for two companies, Co-Mo Connect and Callabyte Technology, were approved by the FCC this month. Co-Mo Connect was awarded $21,968,964 over 10 years, servicing 8,356 homes, while Callabyte Technology, a subsidiary of Callaway Electric Cooperative, received $2,174,192 over 10 years to service 1,485 homes. Co-Mo Connect is based in Tipton, while Callaway is housed in Fulton.
The two companies are required to provide download speeds of at 1 gigabit per second and upload speeds of 500 megabits per second. For comparison, the average state-wide speed in Missouri is 40.3 megabits per second, according to BroadbandNow.com, which tracks broadband access and speeds around the country.
Last month, the FCC granted $22.4 million to two other rural electric cooperative companies, United Services Inc. and GoSEMO Inc.
The $24.1 million is part of the FCC’s ongoing Connect America Fund, which was created with the intent to “close the digital divide in rural America,” according to a news release from the FCC. Throughout the year, the FCC has been approving rounds of applications in an auction process. In total, the fund will allocate almost $2 billion to rural areas of the country.
For this round of the auction, the FCC granted more than $166 million to companies in 22 states.
Missouri is ranked 41st in the nation for broadband connectedness. Eighty-four percent of the state has broadband coverage, while 22% percent of the population is underserved by their access and speed, according to BroadbandNow.com. Just over 36% percent of Missourians have access to 1 gigabit broadband.
A special report by the Missourian in January 2018 detailed the extent of the broadband access problem in the state and how it manifests itself in people’s lives.
Rural businesses are unable to access Wi-Fi, limiting their online marketplace opportunities. Farmers struggle to keep tabs on crop prices and weather patterns and are thus unable stay competitive. Hospitals are unable to connect patients with medical specialists throughout the state. Schools are forced to ration their internet to avoid a complete shutdown when they hit the access cap. About 30% percentof Missourians live in what are considered “rural” areas.
The state’s government has also taken steps to tackle the issue and increase access. In May, the legislature passed a state budget that included $5 million for the newly created Rural Broadband Development Fund. That $30 billion budget was signed by Gov. Mike Parson on Monday.
Supervising editor is Elizabeth Brixey.