State launches $5 million grant program to improve broadband access

Gov. Mike Parson on Tuesday announced the launch of Missouri’s broadband grant program, which will award $5 million to bring high-speed internet to unserved and underserved communities in the state.

Currently, Missouri ranks as the 41st-most connected state, with about 14% of the population underserved, according to BroadbandNow, a website that tracks data on internet service.

Parson called the lack of internet access that affects more than 1.2 million Missourians a major problem that needs an immediate solution.

“That’s the kind of problem that if you work toward solving it, it’s going to help with other problems, like retaining good talent or offering better health care and education for our communities,” he said in a press release. “Broadband is exactly the kind of infrastructure that Missouri needs to grow and thrive in the future.”

In areas like Bollinger County in southeastern Missouri, only 0.8% of residents have access to internet speeds of at least 25 mbps, according to BroadbandNow. The new grant program looks to change that.

Created by the Missouri General Assembly in 2018 and funded during the 2019 legislative session, the program focuses on providing state resources that help providers and communities develop broadband infrastructure.

The program will match up to 50% of construction costs to allow for broadband expansion in underserved areas. Projects requesting grants of $500,000 or less will be given priority to ensure a greater number of projects receive funding, according to the Missouri Department of Economic Development.

The application process begins Dec. 4 and ends Jan. 7. Projects will be scored on several criteria, with preference being given to proposals that generate “the highest return in public benefits for the public costs incurred,” according to the DED.

Eligible applicants include corporations, nonprofits, political subdivisions and rural electric cooperatives catering to underserved areas. The program can help with construction of broadband facilities, final engineering and construction plans, permitting, installation, and validation of service.

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