Background

The majority of rural Missourians lack access to affordable, reliable, high-speed internet. Broadband access isn’t just about entertainment for rural Missourians; it is a link to the best education and healthcare available. Broadband also opens opportunities for economic development. In 2017, Missouri Farm Bureau worked closely with the Governor’s office and other interested parties focusing on improving access across the state.

Missouri currently ranks 42nd in broadband access. Over one million Missourians lack access to broadband. The lack of access disproportionately affect rural Missouri, according to a 2016 report from the FCC, 61 percent of rural Missourians do not have access to high-speed internet. The state of Missouri does best when all of Missouri is thriving. In order for rural Missouri to reach its full potential we need access to the tools our urban friends take for granted.

Status

Missouri Farm Bureau has been working with legislators, the governor’s office, and state department to move the state forward in connectivity. In early 2018, in line with MOFB policy, the governor announced the position of Director of Broadband Development. This position will work within state government to focus the state’s resources. Many states have adopted a similar coordinating office in their effort to make strides broadband availability. The 2018 legislative session was productive for Farm Bureau’s broadband efforts. The legislature passed legislation allowing rural electric cooperative to facilitate broadband over their existing infrastructure. The General Assembly also created the Rural Broadband Development Fund. Once funded, the fund will help bring high-speed internet to areas of the state that are currently unserved or underserved. These efforts combined should move the state forward. Missouri Farm Bureau will continue to push to bring high quality service to every Missourian.

Missouri Farm Bureau Policy

We support Missouri adopting a state broadband office.

We support the creation of a state incentive/development fund to improve the availability of broadband in rural areas. Suggested funding options could include current general revenue or new fees on related telecommunication services.

We oppose legislation or regulations pertaining to access fees that could hinder the availability of affordable advanced services (i.e. broadband) or result in dramatic rate increases for rural Missouri.

We support allowing rural electric cooperative easements to be used for the additional purpose of broadband service only, without compensation to the landowners as long as the landowners’ use of the easement is unaffected and no other damages or loss of property values are incurred.

Access to high-quality voice, data, graphics and video via the Internet is increasingly important in our schools, hospitals, businesses and homes. As such, we support the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) definition for broadband (25 megabits per second download speed and 3 Mbps upload speed). We encourage investments in rural areas to provide high-speed fiber or other types of networks that will meet and exceed the FCC’s standard.

We support making rural electric cooperatives and other entities eligible for Connect America funding to provide “next generation” broadband access.

We believe the goals of the USDA Rural Utilities Service’s broadband program should be to assist broadband providers in expanding high-speed internet access to underserved areas and to promote competition in underserved areas to lower the price of high-speed internet access for consumers. USDA and Congress should use the Farm Bill and annual appropriations bills to modify the program to increase utilization of loans and grants in rural and underserved communities.