TWO RECOMMENDATIONS TO INVEST IN BROADBAND
Did you know that unused federal funding is available to expand broadband buildout? Within the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), Congress allocated $2.6 billion to Missouri in economic development funds for eligible municipalities and counties. Of that funding, Governor Parson announced an investment of $400 million for broadband infrastructure in Missouri, with hundreds of millions more expected from the federal Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), which became law in November 2021. If responsibly and effectively allocated, broadband expansion projects in unserved and underserved areas can get underway in a timely fashion and we can connect more Missourians, more quickly.
Connect The Future is advocating for two commonsense plans to best utilize the federal funds available to Missouri. We strongly encourage Governor Parson and the Missouri Legislature to act swiftly on these recommendations, which will usher in rapid advancement in the expansion of broadband infrastructure and potentially create up to $8.05 billion in new economic growth throughout our state.
#1: CREATE A BROADBAND INFRASTRUCTURE POLE UPGRADE PROGRAM
Utility poles play a critical role in advancing broadband expansion into unserved areas. Often times, broadband providers seek to attach to multiple utility poles in rural areas just to serve one home. This presents a costly problem as many of these old utility poles require replacement to handle new broadband attachments, which can take a very long time. Establishing a broadband infrastructure pole upgrade program for unserved areas would dedicate federal relief money given to Missouri to aid in the removal of outdated utility poles when a broadband provider wants to attach their facilities to utility poles, and help speed their replacement with new, modern poles. This would help accelerate the deployment of network infrastructure in areas where broadband currently does not exist.
Other states have established similar programs. For example, in June 2021, Texas established a pole replacement fund for broadband deployment in unserved areas, and the legislature recently allocated $75 million for this purpose. Similarly, North Carolina created a $100 million pole replacement fund at the end of last year. That is excellent news for Texas and North Carolina, but Missouri should be leading the way!
#2: FUND THE DEPARTMENT OF ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT’S BROADBAND GRANT PROGRAM
Created in 2018 by the Revised Statutes of Missouri sections 620.2450 to 620.2458, the Missouri Broadband Grant Program provides state resources to help providers, communities, counties, and regions invest in building broadband infrastructure in unserved and underserved areas of the state. The state has run an effective broadband grant initiative out of this Program before, but it’s currently not funded.
Continued investment into the Broadband Grant Program would stimulate investment in Missouri’s broadband infrastructure and deliver reliable, high-speed broadband access to the communities still living on the wrong side of the digital divide. Many states have created similar programs at a range of funding levels. For example:
- Illinois: $424 million
- Indiana: $270 million
- Kentucky: $300 million
- Texas: $425.5 million
- North Carolina: $750 million
Fully utilizing federal dollars made available to Missouri by funding the Broadband Grant Program presents a clear solution to address today’s disparities in broadband access by getting every Missourian quickly connected to the future. Governor Parson has taken the first step by announcing plans to spend $400 million on broadband, and the state needs to bring that to fruition by taking the final step to appropriate that money into this Program.