The Missouri Office of Broadband Development estimates that 20 percent of state residents, or 1.26 million people, are without internet access. The Rolla Daily News reports that the FCC intends to direct $176 million of its $20 billion Rural Digital Opportunity Fund to underserved Missourians.
The earmarked funds will be distributed over the next ten years as broadband infrastructure stretches further into rural areas.
Much of the work done beforehand to identify which communities need the digital assist will be handled via regional planning commissions (RPCs). RPCs are legislated into existence to support local governments with matters pertaining to infrastructure, such as wastewater systems, or broadband outreach.
Systems expert Dr. Casey Canfield told the Daily News, “RPCs have a role in supporting broadband infrastructure in rural communities. They told us that broadband is critical infrastructure for economic development in rural communities. Attracting new businesses and enterprises without reliable high-speed broadband access is very challenging.” Canfield met with 16 of the 19 participating RPCs to discuss community broadband needs, and potential roadblocks.
“If the area does not have internet, are people going to want to live there?” asked Canfield. “When I’ve talked to the regional planning commissions, that’s one of the concerns they have – the desirability of an area.” Ongoing talks are taking on a range of factors beyond just determining where broadband is most needed. Other concerns include management coordination and material costs, and short vs. long range benefits of broadband delivery.
Wanting Missouri to see the biggest return on its investment in internet access is one of Canfield’s primary goals. “There is evidence suggesting that giving people internet access will improve the economy,” she said.