The seven-member Special Interim Committee on Broadband Development was approved by House Speaker Rob Vescovo to convene during the interim with Riggs, a Republican from northeast Missouri, at the helm. Other members include Reps. Bishop Davidson, Travis Fitzwater, Jay Mosley, Wes Rogers, Travis Smith, and Sara Walsh.
“For us to move forward as policymakers, we have to have a really clear picture of what’s going on,” Riggs said. “We’re trying to collect as much data as we can from all parts of the state. … This isn’t something we can sleep on.”
The committee will convene throughout the interim, and Riggs hopes to put together a report by December — just in time for pre-filing.
The group will focus on four basic areas: business applications, online education, precision agriculture, and telemedicine. It will also look at “the good, the bad, and the different” things other states have implemented when it comes to broadband access, Riggs said.
Riggs said he specifically asked for the committee to include members from St. Louis and Kansas City as access to broadband isn’t just a problem in rural communities.
“Even though we think of urban areas as having the best internet in the world, they don’t. They have lots of pockets and broadband deserts,” he said. “We’re trying to strategize: How do we get the entire state covered?”
Riggs pointed to 2017 when a statewide effort in tandem with stakeholders was launched that led to the creation of a state broadband office, a state broadband fund, and a state standard.
“We need to do something here to get ahead of all the federal money that’s coming our way and be prepared to look at different options as far as where we’re at because everything changes in broadband,” Riggs said.
In December, the Federal Communications Commission designated $346 million in subsidies over 10 years for broadband development in Missouri. Significant funding from the CARES Act due to the COVID-19 pandemic has also been given to Missouri to boost broadband accessibility.
The first meeting — likely a largely organizational gathering — of the Special Interim Committee on Broadband Development is in the works within the next few weeks. Riggs is also planning for members to hold individual town hall meetings in their districts to collect more information on broadband issues.
Those interested in providing feedback to the committee can email Riggs at Louis.riggs[at]house.mo.gov.
Kaitlyn Schallhorn is the editor of The Missouri Times. She joined the newspaper in early 2019 after working as a reporter for Fox News in New York City.
Throughout her career, Kaitlyn has covered political campaigns across the U.S., including the 2016 presidential election, and humanitarian aid efforts in Africa and the Middle East.
She is a native of Missouri who studied journalism at Winthrop University in South Carolina. She is also an alumna of the National Journalism Center in Washington, D.C.
Contact Kaitlyn at email@example.com.