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Report offers solutions for communities looking to expand their broadband access
On Wednesday, experts from all four University of Missouri System universities and MU Extension unveiled a plan to expand broadband access in a rural pilot community. In a public webinar, the UM System Broadband Leadership Team offered highlights of its report, the full version of which is available to the public here.
“The UM System is poised to support broadband expansion in local communities through faculty and staff research and programs, partnerships, and the Extension network across Missouri,” said Marshall Stewart, UM System chief engagement officer and MU vice chancellor for extension and engagement. “But to do so, we need to have an intimate, practical understanding of what is entailed in making high speed internet work for these communities, and this report does just that.”
Following a workshop last month with community leaders, the team developed several actionable insights and recommendations for Bollinger County, a southeastern Missouri county in which four out of five residents currently have no access to broadband internet. In addition to identifying the cost issues for broadband businesses presented by a lack of population density and rural terrain, the team offered solutions for affordability, including the possibility of subsidies and a marketplace that allows consumers to choose from several providers. Law experts also noted the need for clearer regulations concerning telecommunications services. These recommendations are intended to serve as a model for further expansion of broadband throughout the state.
In addition to a summary of the report, the webinar also featured information about the Missouri Resource Rail, a website that brings together businesses and resources in a database that can assist communities in expanding their broadband coverage. Such resources include MOSourceLink, which offers help to those looking to start or grow a business, and the Center for Applied Research and Engagement Systems (CARES), an MU Extension center that collects data to enable the public, policymakers and nonprofit organizations to make more informed decisions.
The Resource Rail also includes a broadband planning guide, which incorporates findings from the report into an interactive guide that covers common questions from communities while also providing maps of broadband access rates and eligibility for assistance funds by county.
“Broadband access is an emerging topic, and the Missouri Resource Rail provides a space to get up to speed and get moving,” said Sam Tennant, program coordinator for CARES. “It’s a space for shared learning, best practices and collaboration.”
Tennant also announced the formation of a new steering committee, which he said would be meeting to map out the process for implementing the recommendations contained in the report, both in Bollinger County and across the state.