COLUMBIA — Gov. Jay Nixon announced Tuesday the creation of a program that aims to establish statewide broadband Internet access by 2014.
The program, MoBroadbandNow, will consist of businesses and organizations that will partner with the state to compete for funding from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. Interested businesses must submit an application by 2 p.m. on July 13 at the Office of Administration in Jefferson City.
The Recovery Act authorized $7.2 billion for state broadband programs, including $4.5 billion for the National Telecommunications and Information Administration and $2.5 billion for the Rural Utilities Service.
The program aims to create a "fiber-optic broadband backbone" that would reach even the most rural areas in Missouri.
One of the businesses that will be submitting an application to partner with the state is Big River Telephone Company in Cape Girardeau.
"This initiative has been in our business plan since our inception in 2001," Big River President Kevin Cantwell said. Before the funding, "the fiscal cost to deliver copper lines and run fiber 10 miles to connect five or six homes ... economically, just didn't make sense."
Nixon spokesman Scott Holste said the state will be looking to partner with companies that have experience in fiber optics and broadband expansion to implement the program.
"This is akin to the expansion of railroads in the 19th century and creation of the interstate highway system in the 20th century," Holste said.
Holste said the program is somewhat modeled on what Iowa has done to provide Internet access to the state, and the governor's office spoke with former Iowa governor and current U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack on how to best implement the broadband network in Missouri.
The program is also expected to have an economic impact by creating jobs in technological fields that will carry out the construction and operation of the fiber-optic network.
“We’ll immediately hire 59 people, and could hire up to 100 new people,” said Cantwell, whose company currently employs 68 people.
Missouri ranks 39th nationally in Internet download speed, according to a 2008 study conducted by Communications Workers of America.
“The goal is to progress to a day when hospitals, schools and businesses in every part of the state will have broadband access,” Holste said.