Over $250 million grants bring high-speed internet to Missouri rural area

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Marceline - Eleven Missouri companies received over $250 million in subsidies from Federal Communications Commission to install new broadband structures across the state. 

Marceline City Manager Richard Hoon, one of the 1.2 million Missourians without high-speed internet, said the town can’t attract new business without it.

He said businesses think of high-speed internet as a basic utility.

“The economy is digital,” said Hoon. “It provides us an economic disadvantage.”

The lack of high speed internet is a common problem for those in rural areas. There are 50 percent of rural residents in Missouri that don’t have access to high-speed internet. But there is good news for people in rural communities like Marceline; the Federal Communications Commission is giving 11 Missouri companies over $250 million in subsidies over 10 years to install new broadband structures.

Broadband structures connect farmers, businesses, gamers and educators to the internet with faster speeds and extra bandwidth. This allows the transfer of more data compared to traditional dial-up services.

Fiber optics is the fastest broadband available. It uses tiny glass threads, smaller than a strand of hair, to move data at the speed of light and provides more bandwidth compared to older and traditional broadband structures.

Rural communities have lobbied for subsidies for companies to install fiber optics.

Becky Cleveland, who is the coordinator at the Brookfield Economic Development office, has led lobbying efforts at the state level.

She said groups from over a quarter of the state lobbied to increase access to fiber optics.

“It affects all aspects of our life now,” said Cleveland. “It’s about health care. It’s about business, and to a 15-year-old it’s about gaming.” 

Jim Long, chief information officer at William Woods University, compares switching to fiber optic speeds to driving on a highway.

He said entertainment, specifically streaming video, makes up a majority of data moving through the internet, but soon people might need more bandwidth than fiber optics.

“Well now we’re doing video. You need to push a lot more data in a very concentrated way,” Long said. “What happens when it’s augmented reality, what happens when it’s virtual reality where you need to send more data. Suddenly you need to get bigger and bigger.”

Meanwhile, communication and internet companies are searching for better internet technologies as well.

Bluebird Network, a telecommunications company, provides a backbone for bandwidth services, like fiber optics, to other internet companies. CEO Michael Morey wants government agencies to focus on advancing newer internet technologies.

“The internet is not going away,” said Morey. “We’re going to need more and more [bandwidth] moving forward. The traditional providers, your Verizon and AT&T’s, are coming out with 5G.”

While conversations continue on advancing internet technology, rural communities are still excited about faster broadband. People gave construction workers gifts because they’re excited to have faster internet.

“You have people coming out giving you cookies,” said Gabe Jacoby, supervisor of construction and engineering at Chariton Valley. “The residents catch your face and the next thing you know, hey my husband made this last night, deer jerky or whatever it may be.”

Hoon doesn’t have to go far to see the excitement himself.

“[My son] was telling his friends at school we’re gonna get it, we’re going to get it,’” Hoon said.  “If it came to me buying him his first car versus getting a 150-meg download speed on the fiber optic he would be more excited about that and say, 'hey, forget about the car.’”