On July 2, Gov. Mike Parson signed an important broadband bill into law and announced that $50 million in federal coronavirus relief funds will go toward broadband expansion.
The COVID-19 crisis served as another reminder of the economic importance of having modern broadband services available across Missouri. As schools and businesses closed, students and workers were forced to rely on their local broadband infrastructure.
House Bill 1768 will apply to the millions of dollars awarded to Missouri broadband providers from FCC and USDA Rural Development auctions as well as future federal broadband dollars that may be awarded. It extends the state’s broadband grant program through 2027. The bill also makes it possible for the state to reassign unused funds from one provider to another instead of the unused money going back to the federal government. Bill sponsor Rep. Louis Riggs, a Republican from Hannibal, is a 2019 Missouri Chamber Business Champion. So is Sen. Dan Hegeman, a Republican from Cosby who handled the bill in the Senate.
Expanding broadband has been an ongoing priority of the Missouri Chamber for years, and the COVID-19 crisis made the need for this even more clear. This is a long-term action item in the Missouri Chamber’s Uniting For Recovery COVID-19 Economic Response Agenda.
“Broadband internet has become an essential resource that’s needed to run a business, complete schoolwork and communicate. But today far too many families and businesses lack access to this resource,” said Daniel P. Mehan, Missouri Chamber president and CEO. “Broadband access is vital for Missouri’s COVID-19 recovery and economic growth. House Bill 1768 will help ignite economic and workforce development throughout the state.”
The $50 million expansion effort will focus on emergency broadband investment, telehealth, libraries, and k-12 and higher education distance learning.
“Providing Missourians essential services during this time is one of our top priorities,” said Gov. Parson. “Ensuring citizens have appropriate access to telehealth and education and that they are able to telework is critical. These are not optional services, and we want to do our best to increase connectivity across the state.”