Gov. Jay Nixon today visited the offices of the Ralls County Electric Cooperative (RCEC) in New London to talk about joint efforts by the state of Missouri and electric co-operatives to significantly expand the reach of broadband Internet service in Missouri. The Governor said the partnership between the state and the electric co-operatives seeks more than $142.3 million in federal recovery funds specifically designated for increasing the availability of broadband.
On Aug. 12, Gov. Nixon was at the Marshfield headquarters of Sho-Me Power and Sho-Me Technologies to announce that the state and Sho-Me Technologies have partnered together to apply for $142.3 million to help lay 2,500 miles of fiber-optic cable and construct 200 new broadband towers across the state. This initiative, part of the five-year MoBroadbandNow Project, would expand broadband accessibility to 91.5 percent of the total population, a significant increase from current projected accessibility of 79.7 percent.
Today in New London, the Governor provided details about how Missouri is also working with the Ralls County Electric Cooperative (RCEC) and other local Internet Service Providers to extend broadband connections from the planned MoBroadbandNow backbone to consumers in homes, businesses, schools and medical facilities. The Governor was joined at today's event by state Sen. Wes Shoemyer, state Rep. Rachel Bringer, and by officials from RCEC, Sho-Me Power, and the Association of Missouri Electric Cooperatives.
RCEC, which serves consumers in Audrain, Marion, Monroe, Pike and Ralls counties, has applied to the federal government for recovery act funding for its project. The Governor said the state of Missouri provided a letter of support for the RCEC application and has pledged up to $950,000 in matching funds to help in purchasing equipment that would be used to deliver the fiber-optic cable directly to the doorsteps of consumers for a fair price. The state matching funds for this project would come from a $40 million allocation, from the federal budget stabilization fund, approved by the Missouri legislature this year for broadband enhancement projects.
"Just as the railroads and interstates transformed Missouri communities in decades past, this massive undertaking would truly help connect every corner of Missouri with the information superhighway of the future," Gov. Nixon said. "This project has the potential to connect doctors and patients across our state at the speed of light; open the doors of our colleges and universities to students in every corner of Missouri; and expand markets for our small businesses not only around Missouri, but all across the globe.
"The partnership with the Ralls County Electric Cooperative will serve as a model for delivering this high-speed connection directly to Missourians in parts of the state that don't have broadband access," the Governor said. "It also shows we will compete for every possible recovery act dollar to turn MoBroadbandNow into reality."
On Aug. 13, the state and Sho-Me Technologies filed an application with the U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Department of Commerce for construction of the broadband backbone. To make this project feasible, the state of Missouri would provide more than $25 million in matching funds if the application is approved and funded, and Sho-Me Technologies would contribute $8.375 million in fiber lines along the new network.
The state's matching funds would help purchase the equipment to connect the new fiber across the state. While the equipment would serve the needs of both the state and Sho-Me Technologies, the state would actually own the equipment. The matching funds provided for this project also would come from the $40 million allocation approved by the legislature this year for broadband enhancement projects.
Known as a "middle-mile" project, MoBroadbandNow would bring a high-speed broadband connection into currently underserved or unserved communities. "Last-mile" service providers, such as RCEC and other local utility or cable companies, then would provide direct Internet access to homes, businesses and other customers either wirelessly or by laying additional fiber lines.
Both directly and indirectly, the benefits to Missourians of expanded broadband and Internet access are dramatic. For instance, this project would help establish the necessary infrastructure for more Missouri hospitals and clinics to take advantage of telemedicine and electronic medical records systems, which could significantly enhance efficiency, accuracy and cost-savings throughout the health care industry.
"The Internet holds the potential to help every Missourian lead a healthier, more productive life, and to bring about real savings for the people of our state," Gov. Nixon said. "It's time to close the divide between communities with broadband access and those without, and this project will help us accomplish that goal."
Initial award announcements are expected in December. Gov. Nixon has taken a number of steps to underscore the scope and potential of the MoBroadbandNow application, including having personal conversations with U.S. Commerce Secretary Gary Locke and U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.