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Missouri Legislature’s spending on broadband falls short of governor’s proposal

by Ryan Pivoney | May 10, 2022 at 4:00 a.m.
Cables are plugged into computer equipment. (Associated Press file photo)

The Missouri Legislature approved several pockets of broadband funding in the state budget this session, but the total remains millions short of the governor's recommendations.

The Missouri General Assembly passed a record state budget totaling $49 billion last week, which now awaits Gov. Mike Parson's approval. The budget includes roughly $372 million for broadband internet development and programs -- nearly $100 million lower than a plan proposed by Parson.

At the state fair last year, Parson announced a plan to invest $400 million in broadband development across the state. He then laid out more details for the spending during his State of the State address in January, where the plan grew to more than $460 million.

While funding for broadband infrastructure and coverage mapping remained intact through the legislative process, the General Assembly slashed funding for broadband towers, rural telehealth access, broadband grants and the Public Safety Broadband Network at the Capitol Complex.

Parson's proposed $30 million for a digital literacy campaign, $9.6 million for public wifi at state parks and $30 million to assist Missourians with monthly internet bills were entirely cut through the legislative process.

In his January address, Parson proposed using federal ARPA funding to appropriate $250 million for broadband infrastructure, $30 million to develop 100 broadband towers, $30 million for a digital literacy campaign and $30 million to assist Missouri households with monthly internet bills.

He also suggested using $10 million for the state Office of Broadband Development to develop and launch a broadband coverage map, $34 million for rural telehealth access, $13.3 million for public safety broadband at the Capitol Complex and $9.6 million for public wifi at state parks.

His plan included another $56.2 million for the Missouri Department of Economic Development (DED) to offer broadband grants not fueled by federal COVID-19 relief dollars.

In his State of the State speech, Parson said the proposed broadband investment is the largest in Missouri history and would connect 75,000 households to high-speed internet.

"This is another core investment we are making for the next generation and the future of our state," he said.

With several program areas cut, the budget approved by the state Legislature falls short.

The General Assembly designated broadband funding through a few bills, but a bulk of the funding is in House Bill 3020, a spending bill appropriating the state's use of federal American Rescue Plan Act dollars.

The bill includes $250 million for broadband infrastructure throughout the state, $20 million for broadband towers in unserved and underserved areas and $15 million to reimburse broadband providers for certain costs required to expand services to underserved areas.

Another $10 million is set aside for the Office of Broadband Development to begin mapping efforts, $8.5 million is appropriated for rural access to telehealth and $6.2 million can be used to expand internet capacity at state prisons.

HB 3014, a bill appropriating some of the state's supplemental spending this year, includes just under $800,000 for DED to grow the Office of Broadband Development, which creates program rules and guidance, implements spending plans and receives proposals for broadband expansion and adoption.

The department is slated to receive another $49.2 million to dole out as broadband grants, as appropriated in HB 3007, and the Department of Public Safety is set to receive $12.3 million to build out the Public Safety Broadband Network in Jefferson City to boost wireless internet coverage in and around the Capitol Complex.

Compared to Parson's proposal, the Legislature's budget includes $10 million less for broadband towers, $25.5 million less for rural telehealth access, $7 million less for broadband grants and $1 million less for the Public Safety Broadband Network at the Capitol Complex.

An estimated 77,000 Missouri households don't have access to broadband internet services, according to DED, and more don't have access to service speeds necessary for telehealth and online learning programs.

Data from the Federal Communications Commission indicates there are roughly 147,046 households and 392,364 individuals in the state that are unserved or underserved by internet providers.

"Certainly for those areas -- over half of rural Missouri -- that lack access to broadband, that puts them at a significant disadvantage when it comes to education, when it comes to running a business, when it comes to healthcare," DED acting Director Maggie Kost said in January.

HB 3020: Appropriation

Sponsor: Rep. Cody Smith

HB 3014: Appropriation

Sponsor: Rep. Cody Smith

HB 3007: Appropriation

Sponsor: Rep. Cody Smith


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