Last week I participated in the Fourth Annual Telecommunications Summit sponsored by the University of Missouri’s Truman School. This year the Summit, appropriately focused on the subject of bringing broadband to rural Missouri. I use the term “appropriate”, because the summit, coincidentally, was held one week after the Missouri PSC released a report noting that one out of five Missouri residents and almost four out of ten rural Missouri residents currently do not have access to broadband.
The Missouri conference brought together elected officials, policymakers, infrastructure providers, academicians, non profit organizations and community leaders. During the daylong summit numerous reasons for Missouri’s rural broadband disparity were suggested, but the most likely factors are technological and geographic. Broadband technologies, particularly wireline technologies are distance sensitive, and much of rural Missouri is fairly widely dispersed geographically. New solutions and new approaches are going to be needed to bring all Missourians into the broadband age.
Fortunately, the Connect Kentucky (www.ConnectKentucky.org) experience provides a template for success and the success of that program was a primary topic of discussion. Amazingly, in a four year period, Kentucky has gone from a state where significant portions of its rural communities did not have access to broadband to almost 100 percent broadband access. The state did an outstanding job analyzing the availability of broadband across the state and then organizing human, corporate and government resources to bridge the gaps.
Missouri has a great opportunity to build on the model and momentum established by Kentucky. The Summit last week was not just a gabfest. Key members of the Missouri legislature, including Senators Joan Bray and John Griesheimer and Representative Shannon Cooper were in attendance and expressed their strong interest in improving access to broadband services in the very near term. As importantly, during the Summit, Governor Matt Blunt signed an executive order creating a Rural High-Speed Internet Access Task Force that will report back to him and to the legislature in February,2008 with an analysis and suggestions for state action to remedy the current deployment of broadband in rural areas in the State.
Missouri is getting mobilized. And Connect Kentucky, again, proves to be a valuable model for connecting rural America and for sparking debate as to how best to accomplish that goal.