JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — The state is set to receive $1.7 billion from the federal government to increase access to high-speed internet across Missouri.
In January, the Department of Economic Development asked for Missourians help to receive more money from the federal government by telling the FCC who has access to broadband and who doesn’t. Due to the participation from residents, Missouri is receiving a historic investment to help bridge the gap.
“Missouri is going to see a huge change over the next five years,” Director for the Missouri Office of Broadband Development BJ Tanksley said.
The Show-Me State ranks low nationally for high-speed internet access, with more than 400,000 homes without access at all.
“Population density and the difficulty of the terrain are the two main reasons and when you see both of those come together, like some of our more rural areas in northern and south central Missouri, you’ve got a really hard time,” Tanksley said.
Tanksley said there are 337,000 unserved locations across the state meaning not having access to 25 Mbps by 3 Mbps service, and there are about another 100,000 locations that are underserved, meaning not having access to 100 Mbps by 20 Mbps.
Earlier this week, President Joe Biden announced the federal government will be spending $42 billion in high-speed internet grant programs across the country. Here in Missouri, the state if set to receive $1.7 billion of that.
“We were the third highest recipient of funds, which again, is reflective of the needs of the state,” Tanksley said. “We’re very thrilled to be receiving funds that will allow us to do this work, but it also means there are a lot of unserved locations out there that we’re going to be working on for the next few months and years to bring service.”
A big reason Tanksley said why the state is receiving the grant money is because Missourians participated in the FCC challenge. He said the allocation from the federal government was based on how many residents responded earlier this year.
“We saw locations change across the state from appearing to have service to being in the reality that they don’t have service,” Tanksley said. “Missourians really did, on an individual basis, weigh in on a lot of the challenges.”
Now that the state knows how much money it will receive, Tanksley said within the next year, providers will be able to apply for grants to start filling in the gaps.
“When you look at the allocation versus the number of locations, it’s expensive,” Tanksley said. “You’re looking at $5,000 or $6,000 per location. Providing fiber service is extremely expensive because you’re going to every single location and that’s not cheap infrastructure to put in.”
He said under this federal grant program, private funds will also be used because the Office of Broadband Development will have to bring in 25% match across the lifetime of the program, meaning providers will have to chip in.
The goal is this program is to bring each location 100 Mbps by 100 Mbps, but in some areas that might not be possible and instead receive 100 Mbps by 20 Mbps, which is still quality service.
The state is also working to find providers to put high-speed internet in places where it’s tough to reach but it must be affordable.
“In order to be eligible for this funding, that provider must be providing a quality service at an affordable price,” Tanksley said. “It doesn’t have to be free, but it does have to be an affordable price and they will have to defend that it’s affordable to the area.”
Later this summer, Missourians will have a chance to weigh in on the challenge process again before the Office of Broadband Development sends it to the National Telecommunications Information Administration (NTIA) for their approval. Then, later this fall, Tanksley said they will draft their initial proposal and make it public and will ask residents to weigh in before sending the final plane to NTIA.
One of the first bills the governor signed into law this summer exempts federal broadband grants from state incomes taxes. Tanksley said, Missouri is now working with other states to remove the tax at the federal level. As of now, the $1.7 billion coming to Missouri will be taxed.