The Digital Divide in Missouri
By: Katie Cupp
Nearly 20% of Missouri’s population does not have access to high-speed internet, according to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). The majority of this population are those living in rural areas. As Americans across the nation navigated the pandemic, almost everybody, at one time or another, witnessed the sweeping changes that shifted our methods of collaboration with one another; changes that affected the means in which we could work, learn, and even access health care appointments.
As most in-person collaboration turned virtual, individuals and families were expected to quickly provide a virtual working or learning space for their daily tasks. For many families who struggle to afford access to high-speed internet and other technological resources needed, these were difficult demands.
Lack of broadband access is a problem we should be committed to addressing. The pandemic certainly shed light on this obstacle. As hundreds of thousands of residents have witnessed the damaging effects of this digital divide, they are sounding the alarm.
There are still 23% percent of students who lack appropriate internet access. As virtual learning grew increasingly popular both in and out of the classrooms, students without appropriate broadband access now face a clear challenge to keep up with homework and excel in their classes.
Our health care systems have also adapted by shifting a portion of their health care appointments from in-person to virtual. Health care professionals relying more on telehealth appointments yields a double edge sword for rural Missourians. Lack of broadband in rural areas makes it difficult for patients to access telehealth care, and it’s likely those who face this struggle also live a great distance from a medical center and already have trouble making it to appointments.
With Missouri ranking 32nd in the nation for broadband access, there are more than a million Missourians with no access to the internet. Governor Mike Parson and state legislators have recognized the clear digital divide across the state and have started allocating resources to close this gap.
In August, Governor Parson announced more than $400 million would be allocated to increasing internet access through the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA). Members plan to meet again in November ahead of submitting a report to the General Assembly at the end of the year.
While these are great steps in the right direction, we still have a long way to go until we can confidently say that all Missourians, even those living in rural areas, have access to broadband. By making these services available and affordable, we will ensure residents and communities are in the best position to succeed.