Broadband funding map

Over 95,000 rural Missouri homes and businesses across 90 counties could see expanded broadband internet access through the Connect America Fund.

More than 95,000 homes and small businesses in Missouri could gain access to high-speed internet because of funding from the Federal Communications Commission.

A total of $254.7 million will be distributed to 11 providers over the next 10 years from a recent Connect America Fund auction that was set to target areas of Missouri that otherwise would not receive economic assistance for broadband expansion, according to an FCC news release.

Nationwide, the program allocated $1.48 billion to be distributed to 103 providers in 45 states over the next 10 years, according to the news release. Missouri was allocated more funding than any other state, and 90 of the state’s 114 counties were targeted by the fund.

A provider that will expand broadband in Howard County was allocated $11.3 million — the largest amount appropriated for any Missouri county.

Wisper ISP Inc., a Mascoutah, Illinois-based internet-provider, will receive over $170 million to spur broadband development in over 65 Missouri counties. Of that funding, over $443,000 will be used in Boone County. Malinda Heuring, marketing director for Wisper, would not disclose plans for the Boone County broadband expansion.

Wisper will also be working on projects in Arkansas, Illinois, Indiana and Kansas with Connect America Funding. Heuring said Missouri will be one of the company’s largest projects.

“We will need the local communities’ help in bringing those plans to completion,” Heuring said. “We’ll need people interested in the service so we can move forward and get to the people who need us.”

Mark Wigfield, deputy director of the FCC’s Office of Media Relations, said this auction was intended to target areas where providers declined federal funds in 2015.

In 2015, CenturyLink was awarded almost $77 million through the fund to provide speeds of at least 10 Mbps download and 1 Mbps upload to more than 150,000 Missouri homes and businesses in the time frame of six years, according to previous Missourian reporting.

Some projects funded by federal programs aren’t always completed as planned, causing broadband expansion in rural areas of Missouri to come to a halt. The Missourian found in previous reporting that companies either underestimate the scope of the project, or enter communities where people aren’t receptive to the new technology.

Fifteen telecommunications companies were awarded loans in 2011 to expand broadband in Missouri, according to a USDA report. Only half of the recipients completed their projects, according to previous Missourian reporting.

Wigfield said the FCC has an oversight process for the providers who receive money to ensure the funds aren’t wasted. If the projects aren’t completed, the providers have to give the money back to the FCC, he said.

The FCC’s auction announcement caught the attention from U.S. senators Tuesday.

U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., called the Connect America Fund auction “an important step toward connecting rural communities throughout Missouri with high-speed broadband — a service that is only becoming more and more necessary for small businesses, farmers, healthcare providers, students and schools,” in a statement Tuesday.

U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., said he was in support of the FCC’s program.

“Making sure rural Missourians have access to broadband will improve the quality of life and enhance economic opportunities, whether it’s a farmer utilizing precision agriculture, a doctor treating patients through telemedicine, or a student studying for final exams,” Blunt said in a statement.

“I’m proud to support this program, and I’ll continue working to ensure every farmer, student, and business in rural Missouri has access to high-speed internet.”

Supervising editor is Mark Horvit, horvitm@missouri.edu.

  • State government reporter for the Missourian. You can reach me at (417) 849-5427 or at kathrynhardison@mail.missouri.edu

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