Congress must act to bring broadband to rural Missouri


By Irvin Louis Mansbridge, a rice, soybean and cattle farmer from Fisk, Missouri

The opportunity to call the heartland home and access markets across the globe is truly the best of both worlds. Missouri farmers and ranchers are experiencing a revolutionary intersection of agriculture and e-commerce where they have the ever-increasing ability to sell their high-quality goods across the global market. This opportunity should be available to anyone in Missouri who wants it, but it’s something that can only be achieved when even more communities have access to the best high-speed internet networks.

E-commerce is truly changing our economy and will continue to do so. However, we have yet to reach its full benefits. Far too often, the ability to meaningfully engage in e-commerce and other worthwhile online activities is unfortunately correlated to a zip code.

While venture capital firms and Silicon Valley flourish with abundant technological resources, some parts of rural Missouri don’t have access to their level of resources. Last month the Wall Street Journal penned an in-depth profile titled “Rural America is Stranded in the Dial-Up Age.” That article was set right here in Missouri where we lag behind other states in high-speed internet capabilities.

Unfortunately, regulations from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) worsened this situation through outdated and misapplied policies in an effort to protect an open internet, also known as net neutrality.  Luckily however, under the Commission’s new leadership, these ill-suited policies are being reviewed and could be reformed to once again incentivize companies to increase investment in deploying critical broadband networks to all corners of our state.

But it can’t stop there.

Equally important, we need Congress to pass bipartisan legislation that takes a more modern approach to internet governance. The legislation should enact open internet principles into law, without going overboard and constraining the internet with unnecessarily prescriptive regulations.

While the FCC’s revolving policies from different administrations has been good for lawyers and lobbyists, the constant upheaval creates uncertainty in the economy and keeps private investment on the sidelines. Permanently enshrining net neutrality measures into law in a bipartisan effort would bring a much-needed resolution to this issue and end the cycle of see-sawing policies that makes it harder for companies to expand and improve internet connectivity.

Senators Claire McCaskill and Roy Blunt don’t always agree on policy, but they both want the best for rural Missouri. This is an issue where Democrats and Republicans in Midwestern states should be able to come together to get real results for the hard-working families of the agriculture industry.

There’s almost nothing that gives us more pride than to drive across rural Missouri and see a sign noting a Century Farm. The immense effort and dedication it takes to farm a piece of land for more than 100 years and pass it down from one generation to the next is what this country is all about.

However, it is our sincere belief that getting these farms connected to the digital superhighway is what will keep them thriving for the next hundred years. To do that, Congress should craft a modern internet framework that provides lasting net neutrality protections in a way that removes unnecessary regulatory barriers and fosters increased internet access throughout our state.