We hope you had a blessed Thanksgiving with your family and friends. We have so much to be grateful for this year, and the continued focus and execution of broadband expansion in Missouri is one of them!
Missouri continues to keep broadband expansion at the forefront and because of that, we are well on the way to closing the digital divide affecting millions in our state. This is great news for all, but especially rural Missourians who have struggled from the lack of access to high-speed internet. Please continue reading for an update on broadband expansion efforts at the national and state level.
What’s happening Nationally? Most recently, the National Infrastructure bill passed in 2021 that allocated $65 billion for broadband buildouts and affordability really got the ball rolling. To ensure that all rural areas would truly be the priority, the FCC has been working to dramatically improve the national broadband availability maps to show which areas are still lacking. As you may already know, most of those continue to be rural areas.
This month, the FCC has released its first pre-production draft of its new broadband maps. Click here to review. It is important to note that National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) Chief Alan Davidson says we should expect to wait for that first version to go through at least one full challenge process, so expect the map to be officially ready to use by mid-May 2023. If you find that your area is not accurately represented be sure to submit a challenge so that the FCC can have the most accurate information to publish in their next draft of the broadband availability map.
Where are we in Missouri? The Office of Broadband Development has been hard at work under the Direction of BJ Tanksley listening to consumers and providers and preparing to allocate funds from the Infrastructure bill to providers who are committed to closing the digital divide in Missouri. This is critical for so many Missouri individuals and businesses as they struggle to keep up with a fast-paced digital world.
The Challenge Process has officially concluded
The Challenge Process concluded on November 13, 2022. The Challenge Process allowed service providers to challenge another provider for grant money for use of broadband expansion if they could prove their service more beneficial to consumers in the area of concern.
The challenge succeeds if/when the Office of Broadband Development determines that, for the proposed project service area, the challenger:
Currently provides broadband services meeting baseline speed of 100/20 Mbps; or
Has begun construction to provide such services; or
Has an enforceable commitment to provide broadband internet service at speeds of at least 100/20 Mbps and scalable to higher speeds to the proposed service area in a timeframe similar to that proposed for the applicant’s project.
To view the Challenge Map, click here.
The Office of Broadband Development wrapped up their 2022 Connecting All Missourians Tour this month This fall, staff in the Missouri Office of Broadband Development traveled the state conducting meetings to listen and gauge input from community leaders in education, healthcare, economic development, and residents to discuss strengths and weaknesses when it comes to broadband access. This goal of this tour has been to better understand the challenges and opportunities facing the state as it makes this once-in-a-lifetime investment. The Office of Broadband Development stated they will make another tour of the state in 2023 and plan to provide more opportunities to provide feedback through this process. If you haven’t attended one of their townhalls and have insight and feedback, we highly encourage you to keep an eye on their website to see if there is a townhall coming to a town near you in the future.
Looking Ahead It seems that 2023 will be a year of success for broadband expansion in Missouri. The Office of Broadband Development will continue full steam ahead on their listening tour and working through the challenge process applicants to decide what providers will be awarded money. The sooner this gets completed, the sooner providers will have the green light to start their buildouts to expand connectivity and internet speed. As we patiently await these next steps, we are grateful for the work everyone is pouring in to expand connectivity and close the digital divide.
The next legislative session will kick off in January here in Missouri and we will be keeping a close eye on the bills that impact rural Missourians. Legislators will start pre-filing bills this week and we will get a preview of what their legislative priorities are for the coming year. Among those we know will be funding for public safety, education and the continued allocation of federal funds following the COVID-19 pandemic.
It is important to all of us here at Outstate MO that we continue to bring a spotlight to rural Missouri by fostering our state’s rural economic development and job growth. We will continue to educate the public on the important issues that affect rural Missourians every day by using our relationships with thought leaders and policy makers to advocate for rural MO. You can keep up with all our efforts by following us on social media!