By Barry Dalton
Gov. Mike Parson spoke about the importance of broadband as a critical part of Missouri infrastructure at the Eastern Missouri Family YMCA in Vandalia on Wednesday, April 7.
“Closing the digital divide helps us grow our economy, strengthen our education system and equip Missourians with tools they need to succeed in an increasingly digital age,” said Parson.
“Everybody should have access to reliable internet,” Parson said. “But we also know that we hadn’t done as good a job of that as we should have. When I first became governor I realized we still had tremendous gaps in this state. We still have communities that don’t have it.”
As of December 2019, 97.6% of households in Audrain were connected to broadband, according to the Federal Communications Commission. According to recent data from the American Community Survey, 5,000 households have been left out, including 1,991 households that reported having a computer but no internet and 3,086 that had no computer. Most of the underserved areas are now located on the west side of the county.
“These are the kind of things in the state we’re really trying to develop,” the governor told the Leader after his speech. “This is a priority, just as much as highway systems are and bridges are. The one thing companies look at when they want to come to your town or state, other than what is your workforce like, is the kind of infrastructure you have to offer.”
Tim Arbeiter, director of broadband development for the Missouri Department of Economic Development, said that the governor made the visit to Vandalia because, although Spectrum did not receive any government assistance for the local project, it was a part of the state’s broadband coverage expansion process.
“While this project didn’t receive state funding, it was part of a grant process,” Arbeiter explained. “In late 2019, the state opened up a grant round of the Missouri Broadband Grant Program, once the applications are submitted, they are posted within three days, starting the challenge process. It’s spelled out in statute—which stipulates a 45 day window for existing providers within the community and the region can review those proposed areas for expansion and declare broadband activity is already occurring, as was the case in the Spectrum challenge.”
Windstream Missouri LLC, 113 W. Park St., had applied for a $156,959 broadband grant to expand its services in Vandalia, but the application was not awarded due to the challenge submitted by Spectrum.
“The legislation incorporated the challenge process in hopes that it would ensure that overbuilding doesn’t occur, or give resources to another provider to do something that’s already underway,” Arbeiter added. “So today was a celebration of Spectrum expanding into Vandalia and providing the level of up to Gigabyte service to the community.”
Albeiter says reaching 100% broadband coverage in the state is “a ways out” but he believes it will be a few years, not decades.“It’s hard to estimate because there’s some diversity in Missouri’s topography,” Arbeiter said, including the soil, “especially rock, which is not always the easiest to cut through.”
Spectrum invested $2.3 million installing fiber optic cables and technology in Vandalia in 2020. MissouriCom also made a significant investment in Vandalia and surrounding areas. Both MissouriCom and Windstream Missouri provide broadband services to the Vandalia area as well.
Pictured are Spectrum’s Jarad Falk, Vandalia YMCA Branch Director Debbie Hopke, Mexico-Audrain Library Director Christal Bruner, First Lady Teresa Parson, Missouri Gov. Mike Parson and Vandalia Mayor Ralph Kuda Jr. Spectrum donated 15 new devices, including Chromebooks and Samsung tablets, to the Vandalia Public Library for patron use. Photo by Barry Dalton