At the start of 2018, amid controversies involving net neutrality decisions brought forth by FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, another access initiative was put into place to expand broadband access to rural Missouri.

At the start of 2018, amid controversies involving net neutrality decisions brought forth by FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, another access initiative was put into place to expand broadband access to rural Missouri. The FCC reports that over 105,500 rural homes and businesses in Missouri are currently underserved by high-speed internet access. These areas will now become part of the FCC’s “Connect America Fund” (CAF), which will be used to distribute funds through what they are calling “reverse auction” methods and is scheduled to launch on July 24.

This auction style funding will see nationwide providers compete for up to $2 billion in rural expansion support.

Currently, Camden County sits as the third highest county in the state in terms of potential access locations for new broadband support zones (3,989.) The only counties having more possible zones are Franklin County (6,725 zones) and Jefferson County (5,508 zones.)

Republican U.S. Senator Roy Blunt (MO), a member of the Senate Commerce Committee, has been a significant proponent of this initiative. In January 2017, Blunt joined a number of his Senate colleagues in sending a bipartisan letter to President Donald Trump regarding the importance of broadband, and expanding access in rural areas, as part of any infrastructure legislation Congress and the administration may consider. This helped to kickstart the funding initiative by the FFC.

As of March 12, Republican Congresswoman Vicky Hartzler (MO-04) introduced H.R. 5213, the Expanding Rural Access to Broadband Act, which makes necessary changes to existing Rural Utilities Service (RUS) telecommunications programs to ensure rural Americans aren’t left behind in the digital age.

This push looked to expand on internet infrastructure already in place to increase economic opportunities and improve rural quality of life. This bill requires RUS programs to report back to Congress on ways to incentivize private infrastructure investments to streamline application programs. It would also raise the minimum standard for internet speeds, going from the current minimum of 4 megabits per second (Mbps) download and 1 Mbps upload to a baseline of 25 Mbps download and 3 Mbps upload.

Local fiber provider Co-Mo Connect has made a push to supply rural lake area members in recent years and know the difficulties attached with providing this service.

General Manager Andy Burger says the company provides service to a range of homes within the rural lake area and the biggest challenge can be the lighter population density. Being able to have a constant, stable connection stretched so far from a source can be an immediate issue.

Another key trouble with rural areas is having service members assigned locally. Because many IT service members work out of larger cities, having them readily available in scattered rural areas can be almost impossible unless the providing company is able to fund it. At the end of the day, Burger says this issue of broadband availability can be solved with one thing: money.

“It’s up to the cash available and the amount of time you have to make it happen,” Burger said.

State initiatives are looking to put a national provider in charge of the bid, making a portion of these issues easier with more personnel. However, with $2 billion in funds coming from the auction, it will be uncertain for some time whether or not this will be enough to achieve the goal set forth.