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Interim broadband committee releases its recommendations to legislature

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — Rep. Louis Riggs said his experience chairing the seven-member Special Committee on Broadband Development last year was an “eye-opener” as the committee officially released its recommendations to the General Assembly. 

Riggs, a Republican from Hannibal, said he was taken by the testimony during town halls conducted across the state last year. The committee heard from Missourians in rural areas, as well as the suburban and urban core, and found lack of access to adequate internet was a common problem. 

In an interview with The Missouri Times Tuesday, Riggs noted 25 percent of households in Florissant have inadequate internet service, and citizens in Poplar Bluff still widely use dial-up internet.

On Jan. 5, the committee filed an extensive report on its findings, which included recommendations for how the Parson administration should allocate the $400 million dollar investment of broadband funding from the American Rescue Plan Act. 

The committee recommended both chambers create committees specifically dedicated to broadband as well as the creation of a broadband development council. 

The specific recommendations were: 

    1. Within the General Assembly, creation of Broadband Committees in both chambers to facilitate the legislative process and provide a measure of legislative oversight; 
    2. The creation of a Broadband development council to ensure accountability, meaningful oversight and stakeholder engagement as well as to provide mapping resources that provide real-time transparency to Missouri citizens regarding where broadband internet is, and where it is not; 
    3. Significant fiscal assistance for the Missouri Broadband Office and Broadband Fund to engage in best practices, including site visits to providers deploying broadband using State funds, as well as provide substantial matching funds through its grant process to enable providers to deploy broadband resources within the next three years; 
    4. A revised State Broadband minimum standard that will be flexible enough to move in concert with Federal standards while carving out exceptions for the most remote last-mile access until such time as technology enables phasing out of such methods; 
    5. Overhaul of right-of-way access, make-ready costs, pole attachment disputes, “Dig Once” policies, processes and deadlines that will enable carriers to engage in public-private partnerships to light dark fiber and that will enable providers to bury and string fiber without undue delays. This includes an overhaul of the existing MoDOT fiber network and a review of obstacles to deployment by networks owned by political subdivisions. Further, common sense concepts such as authorizing structures owned by the State of Missouri and political subdivisions thereof to assist with broadband deployment must be considered

Riggs called the federal government’s reliance on census maps “flawed,” citing the recurring cases of inadequate coverage from out-of-state entities. He said he wants to ensure funding aids local broadband efforts. 

“Ideally, we don’t make the same mistakes the federal government has made,” Riggs said.