The results of a survey of Lake of the Ozarks business owners and residents show a problem: slow Internet access speeds. A meeting in Camdenton displayed the lake's lack of broadband access to many interested residents and officials.
Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon (D) launched MoBroadbandNow, an initiative that he hopes will bring broadband access speeds to 95 percent of Missourians by the end of 2014. Survey data showed that rural areas like the ones surrounding the lake are behind the technological curve.
"If you get to far beyond the curve, the cost model gets way out of whack," MoBroadbandNow Project Manager Tim Haithcoat said, "and so that digital divide could have a tendency to get bigger and bigger, because the service—those who need it are wanting more and more and there's not enough funds to build out to those that don't have it at all."
The survey results showed that 25 percent of the respondents in Camden, Miller, Morgan and Laclede counties use dial-up connections to access the Internet and e-mail at home. One percent of the respondents didn't know what their up and down speeds are.
"In many cases people don't know their speed because they don't necessarily have a choice. If that's the only provider that's there and that's the only speed that's given, it doesn't matter. I'm not going to pay any attention to it because I need the Internet," Haithcoat said.
The challenges to putting broadband in rural areas are numerous: high costs, a lack of competitive options, service reliability of existing providers, expense, and the constant evolution of technology. Some areas get what they believe is the best available broadband and then find out that their fiber optic lines are middle-of-the-road.
"They are getting last year's technology implemented now. They're not being on that leading edge—you don't have to be on the bleeding edge—but they're not out in front to make a business model to support the development they want in the region," Haithcoat said.
Of the 54 businesses that responded to the survey, a total of 88 percent had 25 or fewer employees. Sixty five percent had four or fewer employees.
Private businesses are not isolated in the need for broadband speed. Public facilities like schools, government, and libraries are required to have broadband.
"We're finding in libraries the technology is changing faster than we can keep up with," Camden County Library District Director Carolyn Chittendon said.
Chittendon added that as technology changes, so does the role of libraries in a community. Public libraries, for some patrons, are places to access free high-speed Internet. For others, the library equipment allows them a chance to experience new technology before they buy a new computer or device for themselves.
Page 2 of 2 - "We may just be areas for people to come in to access technology (in the future)," Chittendon said.
MoBroadbandNow will announce its next activity at Lake of the Ozarks in the future. The Lake of the Ozarks Council of Local Governments is a local partner in the MoBroadbandNow initiative.
By the numbers
768 absolute minimum download speed (in kilobits per second) that must be maintained to achieve “broadband” designation
200 absolute minimum upload speed (in kilobits per second) that must be maintained to achieve “broadband” designation
$261 million granted to the state of Missouri for broadband development through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act
19 regional planning commissions across the state
4 counties in the Lake of the Ozarks region (Morgan, Miller, Camden, Laclede)
Residential survey-types of Internet service
Fixed wireless 6%
Cellular broadband 6%
Don't know 1%