More than $346 million was earmarked to expand Missouri’s rural broadband infrastructure, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) announced Monday.
The funds come from the commission’s Rural Digital Opportunity Fund, a $20 billion effort to bring broadband services to rural homes and small businesses. The commission auctioned the opportunity to local internet service providers over the past two months.
“This historic auction is great news for the residents of so many rural Missouri communities, who will get access to high-quality broadband service in areas that for too long have been on the wrong side of the digital divide,” FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said. “We structured this innovative and groundbreaking auction to prioritize bids for high-speed, low-latency services to deliver the best results for rural Americans, and the results show that this strategy worked. This auction was the commission’s single largest step ever taken toward delivering digital opportunity to every American and is another key success in our ongoing commitment to universal service.”
More than 199,000 unserved Missouri homes and businesses are set to receive access to the internet at speeds averaging 25 megabytes per second (MBPS) through the fund, according to the commission.
U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt praised the investment, saying the ongoing pandemic highlighted the need for reliable internet in Missouri.
“While we’ve made meaningful progress toward ending the digital divide, nearly one-third of rural Missourians still don’t have access to broadband,” Blunt said in a statement. “This investment will get us another step closer to bringing high-speed internet to unserved areas in our state. I will continue working to ensure the federal government does its part to expand broadband and provide a foundation for more jobs, better education, and stronger economic growth in our rural communities.”
The fund is part of a wider initiative to expand broadband infrastructure across rural America. The FCC announced more than $166 million would go to nearly 10,000 Missouri locations over the next decade after a similar auction for its Connect America Fund last year. More than $175 million was approved from the same program in February.
Broadband has been a large part of the conversation in Missouri this year as schools and colleges pivoted to virtual education in the spring due to COVID-19. Internet access was the biggest concern raised by the state’s universities in a report from the Department of Higher Education and Workforce Development over the summer. Gov. Mike Parson allocated more than $50 million in CARES Act funds to the state’s infrastructure in July.
The FCC also announced its 5G Fund for Rural America last month. It plans to distribute more than $9 billion to provide 5G access to rural homes across the nation.