The state has hired someone to oversee its efforts to bring broadband internet access to rural areas of the state.

Damon Porter is the new director of Mo Broadband Now, a project that has grown out of the effort to bring broadband internet to 95% of Missouri’s population over the next five years.

“It’s a state priority. This is a question of whether or not Missouri is going to remain globally competitive. Broadband has a significant impact on the success of Missouri and the future success of Missouri. Whether it’s in economic development, job creation, workforce development; whether it’s in education, telemedicine, health and wellness, public safety, homeland security. Broadband touches every aspect of Missouri,” Porter said.

The state has landed tens of millions of dollars in federal grant money for projects across the state. Porter will work out of Jefferson City, but doesn’t plan to be there often at first.

“Over the next couple of months, what we’ll be doing is travelling around the state. We’re going to be working with the 19 regional planning councils and commissions that are already established in the state and setting up teams in those communities,” Porter said.

Porter says the broadband summit this fall has helped bring all the interested parties to the table early on in the process. He says he’ll be working with those communities and the companies involved, but his position will also include one major duty.

“We’ll do all sorts of things. But most importantly we’ll collect data and information that will go toward a map which will highlight all the areas in the state of Missouri that currently have broadband service and identify those areas that are either underserved or unserved,” Porter said. “These projects that we have now are going to keep us busy for the next 18-24 months if not longer. We have a lot of work to do with the mapping, and then of course, actually putting the broadband infrastructure into the ground or onto the polls.”

Porter is a lawyer that has worked in the telecommunications industry and in Missouri politics under former two Democratic House Speakers and the Attorney General.

“To a great extent I kind of view myself as the interpreter between those two industries and sectors. Where I can build consensus, where I can bring people to the table, where I can help move things along and facilitate a lot of the great ideas that are out there in the community; I think that’s my most important role,” Porter said.

AUDIO: Ryan Famuliner interviews Damon Porter [10 min MP3]

AUDIO: Ryan Famuliner reports [1 min MP3]