State Representative Louis Riggs, R-Hannibal, tells the story of a constituent who runs a major hog farm operation and has had to drive to a McDonald’s in another town to have the broadband to upload important veterinary records.
That constituent is Missouri’s Director of Agriculture, Chris Chinn.
Chinn lives in Shelby County in northeast Missouri, a spot that did not qualify for the most recent round of FCC outreach to underserved areas, the Connect America Fund, Phase II (CAFII) Missouri telecommunications companies qualified for almost $255 million of CAFII money.
Riggs represents eight of the most underserved counties in the state and applauds the most recent round of federal funding: $550 million in subsidies provided by the USDA Rural Utilities Service pilot program to help in underserved rural and Tribal areas with a population of 20,000 or less.
The FCC Broadband Progress Report shows that 1.25 million Missourians don’t have access to high-speed Internet (25mpbs/3mbps). The majority of those citizens live in rural communities. Between 50 and 60 percent of rural residents do not have broadband internet access, according to various sources.
Federal Communications Commissioner Geoffrey Starks was in Kansas City last week to discuss these funds which were OK’d by Congress and President Trump on February 15 to avoid another government shutdown.
Riggs says Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, Rep. Jason Smith, Sen. Roy Blunt and all of the Missouri Congressional delegation have focused tirelessly on broadband. It’s now up to the utilities to buy in, including all of the rural electric cooperatives. Not all of the co-ops, governed by local boards, want to undertake this additional infrastructure.
“It is a substantial investment,” Riggs concedes.
“They are, to my mind, the major players across the state in terms of getting fiber to the homes, the gold standard,” Riggs says. “The folks who want to grow their tax base, get more money for our schools, rural roads and bridges, this is the ideal way. We don’t have to raise anybody’s taxes; we just increase the value of the property they own.”
He says his local research shows that property value can increase by $3,000 to $5,000 with high-speed fiber to the home.
Riggs also argues that this is the best way to keep or bring young farmers back to Missouri. “The FFA students who want to take over the family farm are not going to if they are kept in the dark.”
“The young folks who are coming online are using precision agriculture…it’s what’s being taught in the schools,” he says.
Along with the investment of utilities, Riggs insists it is up to Missouri legislators to “step up” and make it work, including approving the $5 million Gov. Mike Parson has requested to enable the work of the state Broadband Office.
Riggs has also introduced HB1162 to keep the awarded broadband funds in the state if a provider fails to perform.
In the first round of Connect America Funds auction, AT&T won $400 million, then declined to build out.
He says the state is in a much better position to find another provider. Read Missourinet’s coverage of the Broadband Development Office.
“It’s to say, give us the benefit of the doubt here,” he says. “We’re light years ahead of where we were a year ago today.”