July 2 was a big day for rural Missourians living without the benefits of high-speed internet service. On that date Gov. Mike Parson visited Co-Mo Connect in Tipton to sign House Bill 1768. The bill sponsored by Rep. Louis Riggs extends the Missouri Broadband Grant Program — originally scheduled to expire in August 2021 — through June 30, 2027.
Co-Mo Connect CEO Aaron Bradshaw noted the legislation would assist the mission of electric cooperatives to improve the quality of life in the areas where they serve. “With the support of Gov. Parson and Missouri’s legislators, cooperatives across this great state will be able to bring broadband to unserved areas and truly bridge the digital divide,” he adds.
Gov. Parson spoke to the importance of broadband internet access, and singled out the state’s electric co-ops for their role in expanding access to broadband throughout rural Missouri. He also congratulated Co-Mo Connect on recently signing the cooperative’s 20,000th broadband subscriber.
“No matter where you live, broadband is going to affect you somewhere in the state of Missouri,” Gov. Parson says. “I couldn’t be more proud that the co-ops are the ones leading the way to put broadband in thousands upon thousands of homes.”
Later during his daily COVID-19 briefing, the governor announced nearly $50 million to support broadband expansion across Missouri, including support directed at telehealth and remote education. Funding for the new programs comes in large part from the Coronavirus Relief Fund.
“Providing Missourians essential services during this time is one of our top priorities,” the governor says. “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.”
The funding includes a grant program for Missouri’s libraries that will provide additional hotspots and Wi-Fi-enabled devices to support telehealth and students of higher education who lack their own internet access.