JEFFERSON CITY — The Connecting All Missourians Summit will kick off Tuesday with a series of speakers, including Gov. Mike Parson, to discuss high-speed internet connectivity issues and solutions in Missouri.
Missouri currently has planning funds to kick off its Connecting All Missourians tour across the state, but will receive the bulk of the five-year plan funding in nine months.
The amount of funds will depend on the apparent need for high-speed internet in Missouri, which BJ Tanksley of the Missouri Department of Economic Development says won’t be an issue.
“Unfortunately, Missouri has many areas that need broadband,” Tanksley said. “But that does not mean that we will receive significant funds.”
The Connecting All Missourians Tour begins in central Missouri with the intent of informing Missourians of upcoming programs and gathering feedback on internet issues Missourians are experiencing.
It will last six months in total:
- Visit different regions of the state for approximately eight weeks
- Southeast Missouri, Central Missouri, and Northeast Missouri
- Virtual engagement with each location for approximately two months
- One last revisit in the spring
In total, there will be two full rounds of the tour.
Once completed, feedback from Missourians will ultimately determine the five-year plan and secure necessary funding. However, Tanksley says he could have a better idea in about three to four months with an anticipation of multi-million funds.
“We need to hear from Missourians what they’ve been through every day, so we can come up with a solid plan and then invest those funds smartly,” Tanksley said. “Ultimately, the goal is to connect all Missourians.”
He also said that the funding will be distributed in the United States based on need, which makes it difficult to determine how much will be given to the state.
Currently, $265 million is available through American Rescue Plan Act funding that has been dedicated to broadband infrastructure development. This includes Missouri’s Digital Equity Plan, which provides eligible Missourians with monthly rebates on their internet service through a federal program called Emergency Broadband Benefit. Eligible households could receive a reduction of $30 to $50 per month on their internet bill until program funding runs out.
“It’s something people can take advantage of right now, digital equity takes that to the next level,” Tanksley said.
Programs slated for future funding are the federal Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) program and the Digital Equity Act (DEA), both of which aim to connect underserved Missourians and not served. BEAD funds infrastructure-related projects through competitive grants, so the state will again award infrastructure funding through competitive rounds with a focus on unserved areas. The DEA will fund affordable devices, affordable connectivity, and/or job training for e-learning, receiving health care, or working from home.
Tanksley says broadband internet is an important part of the economy, as the past few years have shown that people are operating from home more than ever. He also said broadband issues have been a concern for some time, but he believes COVID-19 has shed light on the issue as well.
“When everyone was forced to stay home, we were like, ‘oh, some can and some can’t,'” Tanksley said. “And we really want to close that gap.”
Tanksley said there is currently funding for locations that make the most sense for ISPs, so additional funding is needed to reach other areas.
“That’s what we want to do, whether with a physical connection or overcoming other barriers to digital equity, to ensure that all Missourians are able to fully engage in a digital economy.” , did he declare.
A hundred people are expected for the event on Tuesday. The summit will take place at the headquarters of the Missouri Farmers Bureau, located in 701 South Country Club Drive in Jefferson City, starting at 9:30 a.m. A virtual option is also available online.
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