A new report says Missouri ranks 32nd in the nation in broadband internet access – a positive step from 41st just a couple years ago. Federal and state aid have helped to boost access around Missouri.
The report says 23% of Missouri students still do not have access to high-speed internet. Plus, it says the state ranks in the bottom five for access to low-cost internet.
During a state Board of Education meeting Tuesday, Tim Arbeiter, state Director of Missouri’s Broadband Development Office, said there is still a lot of work to do.
“Within the next three years, I think we could probably cut our divide in half. But I still think we are going to have challenges ahead of us in the affordability space. As I listen to my colleagues across the state, when affordability programs are active and live, there is still some hesitancy from populations to hook on. We don’t know the aspects and the why to that. So, we need to understand that little piece a little bit better,” said Arbeiter.
Arbeiter said Missouri has 255 broadband internet providers, including cable, wireless, electric, and telecommunication companies.
Rob Dixon, the director of the state Department of Economic Development, said Missouri’s economy will not grow without continuing to boost broadband access.
“It’s a key plank in our overall economic development strategy,” says Dixon. “The big question of is it an affordability issue or is it an access issue or is it a device issue. The answer is yes on all of those things. And so, it is a pretty challenging issue all around.”
He said data shows Missouri is a mixed bag in its state of broadband.
“The bottom line message I think that we have is there is still very much a gap that we are trying to close, but we are moving in that right direction. We’re still on the wrong side of that list but we are moving forward. It’s a difficult issue to talk about kind of in a positive way because there is still such a big gap that we are trying to close. I think that’s why there’s so much urgency around this issue,” says Dixon.
Board member Pamela Westbrooks-Hodge of Pasadena Hills said some individuals in the corporate community want to help.
“Maybe where they plug in and play is with these short-term actions,” she said.
Members talked about broadband coverage being spotty from house to house. During the pandemic, some communities have set up portable wifi connections for students to access internet from a building or a parked bus, for instance.
“A lot of homework being done at the McDonalds,” said Board President Charlie Shields of St. Joseph.
To view the report, click here.
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