Rural Missouri - July 2017 - 5

RM

| PERSPECTIVES

H A RT TO H E A RT

Ending the dial-up age
by Barry Hart | bhart@amec.coop

R

ecently I read a story in The Wall Street Journal that might be news to the newspaper's
subscribers but is a sad way of life for many
of those living far from its New York office.
The story was about rural America being "stranded
in the dial-up age."
It was a well-written story, focusing on the plight
of people living in Washington County, Missouri.
The Journal interviewed a sheep rancher, a school
teacher, a rural teenager and a doctor. All said their
quality of life suffered from a lack of high-speed
internet service.
The writers seemed to have a firm grasp on the
problem. "Rural America can't seem to afford broadband: Too few customers are spread over too great
a distance. The gold standard is fiber-optic service,
but rural internet providers say they can't invest in
door-to-door connections with such a limited number of subscribers," the co-authors wrote.
But the piece was short on solutions. I was
pleased to see the story included Co-Mo Electric
Cooperative's success story. The Tipton-based electric cooperative built a successful fiber-to-the-home
internet business, despite being turned down for
federal funding.
Today, more than 25,000 rural people in one of
the most sparsely populated parts of the state enjoy
internet connections that are faster than internet
speeds in most urban areas.
What the Journal might have pointed out if they
had spent more time here in Missouri is that one
potential solution to the lack of high-speed internet
in rural areas just might be as close as the electric
meter on your home.
Across the state and nation, it's a rare electric co-

op board meeting that does
not have this issue on the
agenda. And more and more
electric cooperatives are following the example of CoMo Electric, along with Ralls
County and United electric
cooperatives, the first in
Missouri to bring high-speed
internet to members.
They've been joined by Barry Electric Cooperative
and Callaway Electric Cooperative. And soon SEMO
Electric and Pemiscot-Dunklin Electric will ensure
the Bootheel crosses the digital divide.
These cooperatives are offering not only internet
service at speeds up to 1 gigabit per second, but
also digital television and phone service.
When someone asks me why an electric cooperative would get into the internet business, I'm
reminded of something Tim Davis, manager of
Pemiscot-Dunklin Electric said: "If we don't do it,
who will?"
Who indeed. The problem, as the Journal pointed
out in its article, is that there are too few people to
cover the high costs of installing fiber-optic lines
in rural areas. Telecommunications companies say
they can't make a profit in rural areas, and they
have washed their hands of the effort.
Sound familiar? That was the same thing rural
people heard in the 1930s when they were unable
to get existing for-profit power companies to provide
them with electricity. Instead, they turned to cooperatives to build the power lines and provide the
same level of electric service urban areas enjoyed,
minus one thing: the profit motive.
Sadly, many electric cooperatives have done
studies that show the numbers just don't work for

their service areas. For these efforts to succeed,
there needs to be a population center that helps offset the areas where population density might run
less than one person per mile. Boards cannot let
the fiber business drag down the electric side of the
cooperative.
However, we won't give up on these areas. There
may be other solutions that will improve internet
access for these people, such as working with existing providers, searching for more affordable technologies or finding new sources of government or
private-sector funding.
I've been working with my counterparts in Michigan to help secure funding for these projects through
the Connect America Fund. That money comes from
fees added to cell phone service. We've been working with the Federal Communications Commission
to add electric cooperatives to the list of businesses
eligible to use these funds. It's a significant amount
of money and just might turn the tide in the war on
slow internet speeds.
And that would be good news to the estimated 61
percent of rural Missourians who are stuck in the
dial-up age.
Hart is executive vice president of the Association
of Missouri Electric Cooperatives.

GUEST COLUMN

MORE for Missouri agriculture
by Chris Chinn | info@ruralmissouri.coop

that won't allow Missouri to settle any longer.
That vision is MORE. MORE will carve out a pathn many ways, agriculture has been a front run- way to bring vitality back to rural communities and
ner in technology to make our food safer, more make them a place that my children, and your chilaffordable and plentiful. Crop farmers utilize dren, want to live and raise their families in. I want
to leave my hometown, and yours, in
farm equipment armed with GPS
better shape for the next generation.
software to implement precision appliTo do that, we will meet challenges
cation techniques, leading to higher
in the agriculture industry by focusyields and fewer inputs. Livestock
ing on four pillars: feed MORE, reach
producers use research-based methMORE, connect MORE and empower
ods to raise animals in a comfortable
MORE.
and environmentally sustainable way,
Feed MORE: What will it take to
resulting in the highest quality meat
feed one more family?
products in the world.
If farming has one overarching purThe relationship between a farmer
pose, it's to feed people. Food is one of
and their community is symbiotic by
the most basic human needs, but for
nature. Rural communities depend
some Missouri families it's not a given.
on farmers just as much as farmers
We believe we can make affordable,
depend upon rural communities.
nutritious and safe food more availUnfortunately, rural communiable to Missouri families.
ties have been left in the dark ages.
Chris Chinn
Reach MORE: What will it take to
Employers and businesses have left,
hospitals have shut down, poverty has infiltrated reach one more consumer?
From peaches to pork, Missouri farmers raise
and communities have struggled. Staggering statistics show that today nearly as many rural Ameri- the highest quality food products in the world while
being good stewards of our natural resources.
cans die as are born each year.
As director of agriculture, I've set forth an agen- Rebuilding the trust in food decisions is essential.
da to bring attention back to rural Missouri. It's a We believe we can reach more consumers with the
vision to enhance the quality of life in the hundreds positive story of Missouri farm families.
Connect MORE: What will it take to connect one
of towns that dot the state's landscape - a vision

I

more community?
Rural communities are at a competitive disadvantage when it comes to business development,
healthcare, education and farming technologies
because of a lack of high-speed internet. We believe
we can connect every last mile in more Missouri
communities.
Empower MORE: What will it take to empower
one more farmer?
One thing is clear: Farmers just want to farm.
They are the true experts in animal care and agriculture stewardship. We believe we can empower more
Missouri farm families for generations to come.
From a thorough regulatory review to ensuring
every last mile in Missouri has high-speed internet access, MORE will be the vehicle to improve
the quality of life in rural and urban communities.
The bottom line is a strong rural Missouri means a
strong Missouri.
Farmers and ranchers will continue to push
for new and innovative ways to make their business more productive and profitable, and we at the
department will do everything we can to ensure that
the communities which support those farmers and
ranchers thrive.
Chinn, a fifth-generation farmer from Clarence, is
director of the Missouri Department of Agriculture.
You can learn more about the Missouri Department
of Agriculture at http://agriculture.mo.gov.
JULY 2017 | RURALMISSOURI.COOP

5


http://agriculture.mo.gov http://www.RURALMISSOURI.COOP

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Rural Missouri - July 2017

Contents
Rural Missouri - July 2017 - Intro
Rural Missouri - July 2017 - Cover1
Rural Missouri - July 2017 - Cover2
Rural Missouri - July 2017 - Contents
Rural Missouri - July 2017 - 4
Rural Missouri - July 2017 - 5
Rural Missouri - July 2017 - 6
Rural Missouri - July 2017 - 7
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Rural Missouri - July 2017 - Cover3
Rural Missouri - July 2017 - Cover4
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