Both Missouri Senators have signed a letter asking for more time to organize efforts to get financing to expand rural broadband service.
The letter seeks more time for state, local, and Tribal governments to challenge an eligibility map for federal money to expand broadband over the next 10 years.
The Senators want additional outreach to the governments that may not be aware or prepared to challenge for access to $4.5 billion in funding from the Federal Communications Commission.
The Senators, including Missouri’s Republican Roy Blunt and Democrat Claire McCaskill, think the current map misrepresents the existence of broadband services in many areas. The money would be used to subsidize areas where private companies won’t provide service because it’s not economically viable.
Blunt gave an address to the Missouri House in April, where he stated 51 percent of rural Missourians don’t have access to broadband. At the same gathering, Republican state House Speaker Todd Richardson of Poplar Bluff said Missouri ranks 40th in the nation in access to broadband service.
McCaskill noted in a statement that the Senators’ correspondence is supported by the Missouri Farm Bureau.
The letter addressed to FCC Chairman Agit Pai asks for an additional 90 days to allow local governments to challenge the current eligibility map.
The bipartisan group of 29 Senators who sent the letter is fronted by Republican Roger Wicker of Mississippi and Democrat Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire.
Pai sent a letter to Wicker Wednesday, saying he would try to comply with the request to extend the window for local governments to respond. The FCC program the Senators are focused on is the Mobility Fund Phase II.
Pai said he supported extending the window by 90 days and had instructed a task force to address the issue.
According to BroadbandNow, Missouri ranks 42nd in the United States for broadband access.
Republican state Representative Delus Johnson of St. Joseph says about a million Missourians don’t have access to broadband.
He sponsored a bill in the legislature this year that would establish a grant program within the Department of Economic Development to expand broadband to unserved and under-served parts of the state. The measure, which fell short of passage, would have relied on 50% matching federal funds.
One measure approved by the state legislature from Republican Representative Curtis Trent of Springfield is aimed at encouraging the development of fiber optic infrastructure by Missouri’s rural electric cooperatives.