Rural Missouri - November 2017 - 4
| C O O P E R AT I O N
photo by Zach Smith
AMEC CEO Barry Hart opened the Sept. 20 broadband roundtable hosted by U.S. Rep. Jason Smith at the West Plains Civic
Center. FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, right, spoke to efforts his agency is making to expand rural broadband access.
The need for speed
FCC chairman's visit stokes rural broadband conversation
he discussion surrounding the need for broadband internet access in rural Missouri continued in the
state's 8th Congressional District with a visit from Federal Communications Commission Chairman
Ajit Pai. U.S. Rep. Jason Smith hosted a broadband roundtable at the West Plains Civic Center during
Chairman Pai's Sept. 20 visit to gain input from constituents on the importance of increasing highspeed internet access for rural Missourians.
Smith said the 8th Congressional District ranks last in the state for speed and availability of broadband
access and related technologies. In 18 of the district's 30 counties less than 50 percent of the population has
access to high-speed internet, with 15 of those counties located west of Highway 67. Their populations run
the gamut from 43.5 percent with access in Texas County to zero percent in Shannon County. Like many Missourians, Smith said his residence near Rolla falls within a zone where broadband is unavailable.
"This is a serious issue affecting our district," Smith said. "It's almost like the rural electrification that rural
America had under the electric cooperatives. This is the next generation." About 150 attended the discussion
and question-and-answer session including other elected officials, local media and members of the public. A
panel of speakers representing business, education, agriculture and electric cooperatives in the 8th District
also spoke to their needs for more robust connectivity to help bridge the digital divide by driving economic
development and retaining dwindling populations.
Pai said the FCC is focused on increasing broadband access in underserved parts of the country, decreasing regulations preventing such a build out of infrastructure and working with elected officials to do so.
Competitive bidding programs such as the Connect America Fund would make available $2 billion of federal
funding over 10 years to providers deploying broadband services in rural America. Pai, who grew up in Parsons, Kansas, agreed with Rep. Smith's comparison to rural electrification in the 1930s.
"To me, broadband in America is not a Republican issue or a Democratic issue - it's an American issue,"
Pai said. "Digital infrastructure and broadband is the 21st century rural electrification project. That is the
issue of our time, and certainly the issue I'm going to be focused on."
Loyd Rice, administrator of engineering services at SEMO Electric Cooperative, Sikeston, said other Missouri co-ops have helped lead the way by building broadband systems in their service areas. He added SEMO
plans to build out a 1-gigabyte fiber-optic network on all 2,500 miles of its electric infrastructure through
wholly owned subsidiary GoSEMO Fiber - whether federal funding becomes available or not. "I hope some of
the funding comes our way," Rice said. "Regardless, we're doing it without it because we've heard the drumbeat of rural America."
ongtime Missouri political leader Caleb
Jones will be the new vice president at
the Association of Missouri Electric Cooperatives. He comes to the association from
Gov. Eric Greitens' office where he was the deputy chief of staff.
"During Caleb's time in the Missouri House
he was not only a member of the leadership but
also a champion for the issues that affected rural
people and their electric cooperatives," said Barry Hart, CEO of the association. "Whenever our
voice needed to be heard we always went to Caleb
because he understood the issues and never forgot his own rural roots."
Jones is a former state representative from
California, Missouri where his family was served
by Co-Mo Electric Cooperative. First elected
in 2010, he served three terms in the Missouri
House of Representatives. He previously worked
on Capitol Hill for U.S. Rep. Kenny Hulshof focusing on agricultural and environmental issues.
After working on the 2004 Bush/Cheney Presidential Campaign, he was appointed by President
Bush to serve as special assistant in the U.S.
Department of Agriculture.
During his time as a representative, he helped
electric cooperatives by supporting a bill that
made it easier to increase reliability by clearing
rights of way and opposed a tax increase that
would have increased the cost of electricity for
co-op members. In his role with Gov. Greitens'
staff, Jones coordinated efforts to secure FCC
funding to help Missouri electric co-ops bring
high-speed internet service to unserved parts of
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Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Rural Missouri - November 2017
Rural Missouri - November 2017 - Intro
Rural Missouri - November 2017 - Cover1
Rural Missouri - November 2017 - Cover2
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