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By Marlana Smith
As Chair of the House Interim Committee on Broadband Development, Louis Riggs said it has been his privilege to discuss broadband issues with experts across Missouri and the United States. He did just that Thursday, July 22 in Leonard.
The all-day meeting began at 9 a.m. with welcome and introductions. The discussion of the meeting was ‘How important is broadband in your line of work?’
A Shelby County panel presentation and discussion began at 1 p.m.
Jesse Schwanke, owner of On Target Ag, Leonard, said broadband is very important and fiber has been a great help to his business.
Schwanke explained the amount of data that is moved into and out of their computer from his office.
“The speed of moving the data has had a positive impact on our business since we were hooked to fiber,” Schwanke said.
Much of what a farmer does in the field is initially connected to cellular data, but once it’s in the cloud it must be retrieved and then other data is pushed back out to the cloud, according to Schwanke.
“Obviously, tractors and fertilizer spreaders can be connected to fiber, but much of the data we move does run through the fiber connection we have at our office,” Schwanke explained.
Riggs said it is also encouraging to see the emphasis on precision agriculture.
“We see very expensive farm equipment coming into use and GPS is in more widespread use than ever before, Riggs continued, “The volume of information now analyzed by equipment is staggering and helps decrease input costs while maximizing yields.”
According to Riggs, a 10-cent increase in the price per bushel of corn and soybeans represents more funds for schools and county governments and must be enabled through universal broadband coverage.
“Missouri Farm Bureau is working hard in this area, as is University Extension,” Riggs expressed.
A major topic of discussion has been inadequate maps at the Federal level.
“They are obsolete as soon as they are released and do not reflect reality because they use census block methodology that counts everyone as being served if only one household is served,” Riggs said, “I do not see significant improvements happening on that front at the Federal level but do see consensus at the State level to solve this problem ourselves.”
Federal funding through American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) will provide $2.7 billion to Missouri that must be designated for use by 2024 and must be completed by 2026. Riggs has a request for $250 million to allocate to the State Broadband Fund before the House Budget subcommittee that will make recommendations as to how to use those funds.
The State Fund has returned $7 in follow-on capital for every $1 expended, nearly twice the national average. That is a track record well worth funding properly.
It is unknown what the Federal “infrastructure” package is going to look like if it passes through Congress, but Riggs is encouraged that the Feds appear to be using a more sensible “community” standard than census block. Riggs said they are also ramping up minimum speeds to 100/20 minimum.
“Shelby County has been well-served by your commissioners, who used CARES Act funding to deploy broadband resources and are moving in that direction again,” Riggs added, “Ralls County has done the same. They are rock stars in the broadband world.”
Riggs noted it is disheartening, however, to see how few rural counties are taking advantage of this historical moment.
“Everyone agrees that it is a shame that young people move away and never come back, but it appears that far too many ignore the fact that the best way to reverse this trend is to provide funding for broadband access to give them what they want.
“Counties are receiving millions to use as they please and broadband is an acceptable use. My personal view is that any funds not stapled to something else should be labeled “broadband” and be made available to providers,” Riggs continued, “It is foolish to send funds back to the Feds when they could be used to bring their county residents into the 21st century with everyone else.