Missouri has an internet problem — and rural Missourians are disproportionately facing the brunt of the impact.
A special project by the Columbia Missourian has found that lack of reliable access to the internet manifests itself in ways that touch on nearly every aspect of life.
In many cases, people are left with speeds of only 0.5 Mbps. Forget Netflix or music — with those speeds business owners can’t keep their stores operating, residents sometimes can’t send email. That leaves some Missourians looking for expensive alternatives, such as checking into hotels so they can access Wi-Fi to operate their online business.
Missouri farmers are left behind, unable to stay competitive in a world that is becoming increasingly reliant on the internet to check crop prices and weather patterns, maintain medical records for livestock and operate GPS-reliant machinery.
However, studies have shown that about 60 percent of rural Missourians lack broadband access.
Rural hospitals and other healthcare providers, already lacking specialized experts, can’t connect rural Missourians to the specialists they need.
The telehealth network has helped connect patients to healthcare providers from their own homes — but it requires broadband access in order to work.
And even when the technology is bought and paid for, poor broadband renders equipment in Fatima schools and others across Missouri useless as they are forced to ration internet to avoid hitting a cap that effectively shuts down the entire system.
Lack of high-speed internet in schools and homes limits the ability to expose students to technology.
The problem has left behind a graveyard of failed legislation and initiatives over the years. Efforts within the Missouri General Assembly to address the problem have failed, and former governor Jay Nixon's now-defunct initiative MOBroadbandNow issued its last report in June 2015.
Since 2012, there have been at least six bills proposed in the Missouri legislature regarding broadband, but all were unsuccessful.
And while there has been progress federally and locally, with Gov. Eric Greitens' administration bringing in over $40 million for broadband access in schools, experts say bringing broadband access to Missouri will take a major, continuous effort.
"No one organization or institute was tasked with solving broadband, and no one entity can solve the problem," said Luke Holtschneider, rural development manager for the Missouri Department of Economic Development.
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