Internet access would improve in Texas County and other south-central Missouri counties under a $26.6 million federal grant to roll out further fiber optics for broadband service. Sho-Me Technologies of Marshfield will receive the monies, said Gov. Jay Nixon on Monday.
The governor said the announcement rivals the development of railroads and interstates of previous generations.
Sho-Me Technologies will use its grant from the U.S. Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) to enhance and expand its fiber optic middle-mile network to 66,000 businesses and more than 260,000 households in 30 counties across southern and central Missouri. The 1,380-mile network will be the backbone infrastructure for last-mile providers to deliver broadband to homes, businesses, schools, libraries, hospitals, public safety agencies and other facilities. The company will provide a match of $11.4 million to the federal grant, for a total project cost of approximately $38 million.
The counties served by Sho-Me Technologies include Benton, Camden, Christian, Cole, Cooper, Crawford, Dallas, Douglas, Franklin, Gasconade, Greene, Hickory, Howell, Laclede, Maries, Miller, Moniteau, Morgan, Oregon, Osage, Ozark, Pettis, Phelps, Polk, Shannon, Stone, Taney, Texas, Webster and Wright.
“In this competition with other states, our Missouri projects have been well-prepared because of this public-private partnership,” Nixon said. “I commend my point man on this initiative, Commissioner of Administration Kelvin Simmons, for the thoroughness of his team in helping obtaining these Recovery Act funds. The benefits for education, healthcare, public safety, commerce and consumers will be felt for decades to come.”
With Monday’s announcements, the governor’s initiative has successfully obtained $192.1 million in federal funds in 2010 for public computing centers and for middle-mile and last-mile broadband projects. Those funds are generating a total of $226.4 million investment in Missouri.
High-speed broadband has not reached many parts of Missouri because of the cost of building middle-mile and last-mile networks. Nixon said the expansion of broadband through the Recovery Act awards would enable Missouri businesses to be more competitive, Missouri physicians and hospitals to better serve patients, Missouri schools to provide a fuller education to students and Missouri consumers to more efficiently utilize the benefits of the Internet.
U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., agreed. “It’s clear how important increasing broadband access is to Missouri’s rural communities. Broadband Internet means jobs and economic development, as well as great improvements in healthcare, public safety and education. This investment from the stimulus funds will help boost businesses and communities in rural Missouri,” McCaskill said.
McCaskill said in a world where businesses are increasingly relying on the Internet to bring new levels of efficiency and creativity to their business models, some areas of the United States are falling behind due to unavailability of high-speed Internet. In 32 counties in Missouri, more than 50 percent of households do not have high-speed broadband (4 mbps broadband ability). For each percentage point increase in the availability of broadband Internet nationwide, the economy will see 300,000 new private sector jobs added, said said.
In addition to the economic benefits, rural broadband access allows schools and libraries to utilize technologies that aren’t available with dial-up Internet, and helps with emergency response. Broadband also significantly helps improve health care services in areas with low populations by promoting telemedicine technology, which allows doctors to communicate with patients using video-conferencing tools.
A key part of the broadband proposals is that they would provide high-speed connections to what are called community anchor institutions, including schools, colleges, hospitals, libraries and public safety agencies. Sho-Me’s proposal includes 100 such community anchor points.
The middle- and last-mile projects will enable healthcare institutions to initiate regional health information exchanges and expand telemedicine capabilities, including advanced medical imaging and medical collaboration in rural areas.
The governor said other applications that expanded broadband will provide to communities across rural Missouri include greater capacity for e-commerce, which will benefit businesses and consumers; increased opportunities for long-distance learning for students at colleges and universities, as well as in grades K-12; and better public safety, through enhanced communications to and from police and sheriffs’ departments, emergency services and correctional institutions.
“We are very pleased at the opportunity to be a part of the MoBroadBandNow initiative and the shared mission to expand affordable and reliable broadband access throughout rural Missouri,” said Gary L. Fulks, the CEO of Sho-Me Technologies, LLC. “Our project will expedite the availability of broadband services to those south central rural communities who have not yet attained the broadband advantage that larger communities now enjoy. We’d like to thank the state of Missouri for their continued support and leadership as we work toward our shared common goal of serving the needs of rural Missouri.”
Nixon has taken a number of steps to underscore the scope and potential of the MoBroadbandNow applications, including personal conversations with U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and U.S. Commerce Secretary Gary Locke.
A top priority of the administration, the MoBroadbandNow initiative was created by the governor to coordinate the state’s efforts to expand broadband in Missouri in response to the federal recovery act passed last year. Its primary goal was to dramatically expand the reach of high-speed Internet throughout Missouri with a focus of ensuring that the state of Missouri competed aggressively for every broadband dollar included in the federal recovery legislation.
In addition to the $226.5 million investment in Missouri through the MoBroadbandNow initiative, other broadband projects in Missouri have received more than $81 million in Recovery Act funds, bringing the total amount for the state to more than $307 million.
It’s clear how important increasing broadband access is toMissouri’s rural communities.