ELKTON, Missouri — Almost everyone in Hermitage works in a job that is affected by broadband access.

Not Don Koenig.

Koenig is the president of OakStar Bank, which moved to the area in 2016. The Springfield-based chain took over the Bank of Urbana, a family-owned operation where Koenig was working. He has been a banker in Hermitage for 25 years.

The OakStar Bank building is connected to a fiber-optic line, which is the most dependable broadband platform. The bank can afford enough bandwidth to have a stronger fiber network than most businesses in Hermitage, Koenig said. There are a few other buildings in town connected to the fiber line, like the courthouse, community health center and public school, he said.

But he has no such access at his home. Koenig lives on a 120-acre stretch of land in Elkton — just 12 miles from Hermitage.

“There’s no broadband here whatsoever,” Koenig said. “Not an option.”

In the Hermitage area, the only reliable cellphone service provider is Verizon Wireless, but Koenig said service is poor. There are a few AT&T towers in the county, but the connection doesn’t reach Hermitage, he said.

Without an option for broadband, and poor cell service, the Koenig family is completely disconnected.

“We’ve tried a hotspot and a booster, and again, it gets you a little something, but you literally could look up ‘used cars’ online and it would take five minutes for each page to load,” Koenig said. “You just bang your head against the wall.

“If you’re out here, six miles from the (broadband) hub line, it makes it a joke. You couldn’t begin to pay what it would take to bring the cable to your property.”

There is one satellite option called HughesNet, but it isn’t affordable.

CenturyLink, the broadband provider, encourages customers to put their name on a waiting list to justify further expansion of the fiber network, Koenig said. He said many people have been on the list for over 15 years.

Koenig’s son grew up in the Hermitage area, but moved away to attend the College of the Ozarks in Branson. When he comes home, Koenig said, it’s a complete culture shock, because his son can’t access the internet.

“He’ll come home and try to do homework, and decides to go back to school early,” Koenig said. “You’re just wasting your time and raising your blood pressure out here.”

Koenig said when the internet service is down, community members go to the public library or senior center to use Wi-Fi. In his case, Koenig will drive into town and use the internet at his office. His wife, Kim, is a teacher at the Wheatland R-II public school and goes to the school to use the internet.

As a president of a bank, Koenig knows a large majority of the local business owners, and said the broadband outages and poor service limits what a business can look like in Hermitage.

“No doubt it hurts our ability to grow, especially anywhere outside the city limits,” Koenig said. “We’re not a big booming area, so it’s going to limit what you can do.”

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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