By Troy Treasure
MACON – On Friday, Jan. 8, the Herald visited with three representatives of Chariton Valley Communications Corporation: Chief Finance Officer Tina Jordan, Manager of Public Relations and Economic Development Donna Bell, and Public Relations and Economic Development Consultant Daren Dowell.
In the first of a two-part report, emphasis is placed on how the COVID-19 pandemic demonstrated the importance of rural broadband service in northeast Missouri.
Jordan stated the company believes rural America is entitled to, and needs, high-speed broadband probably beyond what urban area residents receive.
“If we’re working from home, educated from home, healthcare from home, our access to those things are more limited than to an urban person,” Jordan said.
“Our system was never overwhelmed,” Bell said. “It was more the fact that so many people didn’t have access.”
With a service area population of more than 345,500, Chariton Valley’s network covers 12 counties: Audrain, Boone, Carroll, Chariton, Linn, Macon, Marion, Monroe, Pike, Ralls, Randolph and Shelby.
“Especially with the pandemic, it accentuated the need for rural healthcare to be accessible over the internet,” Jordan said. “We needed the ability to do that so folks could be diagnosed without having to make a trip, taking time away from healthcare providers who needed to be taking care of people that had serious illness, sometimes deadly.”
According to Jordan, the company did receive CARES Act funds from the state of Missouri, but time contraints with which to implement service were tight.
“There are strings attached. I think when people read the press releases where they read, ‘Chariton Valley was awarded $800,000 in CARES Act money,’ they think we’re just going to start building service to their house. We can’t. There are rules, guidelines and obligations. We can only build so fast.”
“We were eligible for over $800,000, we ended up at $500,000 that we were actually able to receive because of the requirements to meet,” Jordan continued. “It’s a time-consuming process, but it is worth it and we’re grateful for the ability to apply for the funds and receive them.”
In addition, funds – depending on the source – are sometimes not distributed lump sum. Disbursement is over a period of years.
When the pandemic reached the emergency stage, the company assisted education administrators and teachers in need of assistance.
“Students were sent home. We put in Wi- Fi hotspots for those students that couldn’t get service, whether they were in our service area or not,” Jordan said.
She stated Chariton Valley continues to work on maps and engineering plans it received funding for.