TARGET 8: Missouri Internet fails one community despite millions in funding

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COLUMBIA - A lack of internet providers and slow connections are a nuisance to many mid-Missourians, but for the Deaf Community, it's no joking matter. After pumping hundreds of millions of dollars into improving Missouri's internet, the state still trails the majority of the nation - even dropping in national ratings last year.

The Missouri Commission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing wrapped up its annual Interpreter's Conference Sunday. Some people in the Deaf Community say although the commission works hard to improve communication, other state efforts fall short.

Jessica Brown is a Deaf woman who lives in the rural town of Tebbetts. She said she and her husband are looking to move, but her new home priority list might surprise you.

"My husband asked me, 'you know, what do you want in a house, what do you want in the area,'" Brown said. "The house, not so important to me - having Internet access and access to things, that's what's important to me."

Brown said that's because while most of us can pick up a phone and talk, she uses the Internet for most things, including emergencies.

"If I didn't have internet, you know, it could be kind of a life or death situation," Brown said.

Others, like MCDHH's executive director, agree internet connectivity is a vital part of everyday life.

"If I were to have a slower Internet speed and I tried to use my video phone, it would look very pixelated and the picture would freeze, and so the interpreter or the other deaf person wouldn't be able to read my sign language," Opeoluwa Sotonwa said.

Many people in the Deaf Community said most of the time they do have reliable Internet, but it's the times they don't that count.

"The local town that I live in, they have fiber-optic, so we're really one of the fortunate people that we have high speed," Brown said. "Even 10 miles away in Mokane, they don't have Internet."

Internet experts, like Socket's marketing manager, acknowledge the state's connectivity disparities.

Missouri Broadband Map

"Typically the more high speed, reliable technologies require significant investment and that's why sometimes rural communities get left behind," Allie Schomaker said.

Lawmakers also recognize Missouri's internet problem. In 2009, Gov. Jay Nixon spent almost $300 million in state and federal funding to improve Missouri's internet by 2014. Missouri was the 37th most connected state when Nixon's five-year plan ended that year. Since then, Missouri dropped to 38th.

Despite all the money and time spent to alleviate the problem, MoBroadbandNow, the name of Nixon's initiative, highlights its own shortcomings.

"Another 439,000 people in Missouri don't have any wired internet providers available where they live," MoBroadbandNow's website said. "There are 918,000 people in Missouri that have access to only one wired provider, leaving them no options to switch."

For Brown, reliable Internet isn't only a matter of life. It's also a matter of love.

"So right now, he's going to be deployed in January," she said about her husband. "So fortunately where he's going to be based, he has wifi. So we'll be able to use FaceTime, Skype."

KOMU 8 reached out to Nixon's office multiple times to ask why the governor's efforts might have failed, but has not heard back.