The funds, pending appropriations approval by the legislature, will come from the federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA). Additionally, the Department of Economic Development (DED) has applied for an additional $56 million from the federal government to support nearly two dozen projects supporting more than 17,000 businesses, residences, and other institutions.
“Investing in our broadband infrastructure is critical to unlocking our full economic potential in this state and will serve Missourians for generations to come,” Parson said. “We expect this investment to increase broadband internet connectivity and access in every corner of the state for hundreds of thousands of Missourians. Quality internet supports learning, health care, business, and agriculture in today’s economy, and we are excited to capitalize on this opportunity to truly make a difference and improve lives.”
Parson said the investment was the “largest in our state history.”
“If you can get infrastructure right and workforce development right, everything feeds off those two things,” Parson said.
The Governor’s Office said the broadband plan was a multi-agency effort that will impact hundreds of thousands of Missourians. It was presented at the Missouri State Fair with Senator Roy Blunt; Congressmen Billy Long, Blaine Luetkemeyer, and Jason Smith; and Congresswoman Vicky Hartzler in addition to Parson and the Missouri Farm Bureau.
“Ten years ago, 50 percent of rural Missouri didn’t have access to broadband. That number has been cut in half, but we’re going to cut that number to zero,” Blunt said. “Access matters. If people didn’t know it mattered before the pandemic, they know it matters now. If you’re going to school at home, if you’re working from home, if you need health care at home — all of that is possible if you have the right kind of connectedness.”
Blunt said “great progress” has been made in the Missouri Legislature as well as Congress but praised the Missouri Farm Bureau for making access to broadband a No. 1 priority.
“Broadband is as important today as the telephone was 50 or 75 years ago. It connects us in ways that would be the lifeblood of our rural communities,” Blunt said.
Congresswoman Vicky Hartzler said the investment will be a “game-changer” for those in the state, particularly for those in her 4th congressional district. Communities have struggled to keep younger generations and businesses because of a lack of high-speed internet, leaving those areas to “start falling down,” she said.
Although the funding is contingent upon legislative approval, Rep. Louis Riggs said he doesn’t expect it to be an issue when lawmakers return to the Capitol in January. Riggs is the chairman of the Special Interim Committee on Broadband Development and has established himself as an expert on the topic in the General Assembly.
Riggs said the investment would impact education, health care, mental health care, businesses, and more and would be a boon to urban, suburban, and rural communities alike.
“From a funding standpoint, it’s a lot of money, but we’ll be able to put every last dime of that to good use,” Riggs told The Missouri Times. “I’m pleased the governor has taken such a hands-on approach to this particular problem. He’s been all over this from day one as governor. It’s a great day for Missouri. It’s a game-changer.”
The announcement was made from the Missouri Farm Bureau’s building at the State Fair in Sedalia Thursday.
“This plan is a significant investment in Missouri’s broadband infrastructure,” Missouri Farm Bureau President Garrett Hawkins said. “Missouri thrives when its rural communities are strong, and Gov. Parson’s plan will help bridge the digital divide between cities and rural areas. It will provide enormous progress toward linking all parts of our state with the modern economy, precision agriculture, and telemedicine.”
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.