Mo. Co-ops Seek More Broadband

Electric cooperatives in Missouri are urging U.S. senators to guide more federal dollars toward their efforts to build broadband for their members and improve the quality of life in rural America.

“Two-thirds of the rural areas of the state don’t have adequate broadband. It is a serious situation in Missouri,” said Barry Hart, CEO of the Association of Missouri Electric Cooperatives.
“Some people think rural areas do not need the same speed cities need. That is false. We have courthouses, health care clinics, farms, businesses, schools that need high-speed internet,” said Hart.

Hart and other electric co-op leaders in Missouri emphasized that need Aug. 17 at public events with Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., Gov. Eric Greitens, and other federal and state leaders.

“If we do it right, ultimately we will bring high-speed internet to members, which will lead to economic opportunities and learning opportunities for our students and businesses,” said Sean Vanslyke, CEO of SEMO Electric Cooperative in Sikeston. The co-op will hook up its first internet customer to GoSEMO Fiber before January 2018.

At a roundtable hosted by McCaskill, several co-op leaders “mentioned the challenges we face and how these opportunities will keep rural Missouri and rural America vital in the U.S. economy,” said Jim Bagley, CEO of United Electric Cooperative in Maryville. “We talked about the role broadband plays in rural medicine and education and how important it is to support our students and local schools. They are the lifeblood keeping rural communities intact.”

United has linked 4,500 of its 10,000 meters with broadband fiber and has more than 5,000 subscribers. SEMO is one of seven co-ops with plans to provide broadband service to homes in the state. Of Missouri’s 40 distribution co-ops, 22 have completed feasibility studies.

“Without federal funding, it is very difficult to get the economics to do this in rural areas,” Hart said. Successful bids for funds from the Federal Communications Commission will be key, he said.

In Missouri, a 10-year “reverse auction” of $650 million from the FCC’s Connect America Fund II for rural broadband will begin in 2018. Electric co-ops and other potential providers can bid for funds declined by AT&T, the incumbent provider, to build broadband for unserved or underserved residents.