Some 1.04 million rural Missourians are without access to broadband internet. Tim Arbeiter, director of Broadband Development with the Missouri Department of Economic Development shared this and other information with Meramec Regional Planning Commission (MRPC) during its regular meeting June 13. According to Arbeiter, Missouri’s broadband initiative is mission critical.
Missouri has the seventh most diversified economy in the nation. Agribusiness is a key strength for Missouri and represents an $88 billion industry for the state. Supporting 400,000 workers combined with over 1,000 farms covering 28.3 million acres of lands, the industry struggles with a lack of access to high speed internet capabilities. In 2018 USDA Agriculture Census, there were 27,000 farms reporting no internet connection.
Arbeiter reported that Missouri House Bill 1880 became law on Aug. 28, 2018, making broadband a statewide imperative. A Purdue University study, recently published, scored the state and counties on their Digital Divide Index (DDI) based on broadband access and adoption and the state’s socioeconomic factors. A value of 100 denoted the highest digital divide. Compared to the state of Missouri, the Meramec Region as a whole sits just above Missouri’s 55.46 at 57.04. In the region, Maries County has the highest DDI with a score of 80.25. Pulaski County has the lowest DDI with a score of 18.43.
In order to address this growing problem, Arbeiter stated that some of the next steps include:
— Promoting the broadband plan and implementing the strategies identified such as connectivity, digital literacy, homework gap and training workers;
— Launching the broadband grant program, a $5 million fund in the state budget dedicated to addressing the broadband issue, in late summer 2019;
— Publishing tools and surveys that can be utilized in broadband planning efforts by communities, counties or regions; and
— Establishing a regional framework for planning efforts.
In other business at the June 13 meeting, the MRPC board:
— Set ticket prices at $30 each for the annual dinner to be held at Stonebrooke Center in Waynesville on October 24, 2019;
— Approved Brenda Doyle, to fill the at-large position representing the seniors. Doyle is the director of the St. Robert/Waynesville Senior Center;
— Approved the final budget for FY 2019-2020 with revenue projected at $2.286 million and expenses at $2.249 million; and
— Learned about the summer entrepreneurship project between MRPC and Missouri S&T.