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In recent years, Missouri has ranked as one of the bottom states when it comes to high-speed internet access.

In normal times, that might be enough to raise eyebrows but not allocate millions of public dollars to make broadband more accessible.

But as we know, these aren't normal times.

The pandemic has rightfully created a new sense of urgency to address the issue. Why? Because last spring, when in-person schooling abruptly ceased and home-based schooling started, many schools and their students were caught flat-footed.

Schools' supplies of Google Chromebooks were divvied out to students who didn't have computers or laptops at home. But what the schools didn't, and couldn't, provide was the internet access for those students who didn't have it.

As a result, online schooling wasn't a success for some Missouri students.

Last week, as the state tightens its financial belt, Missouri officials announced nearly $50 million in funding to address broadband needs, including $5.25 million to support the expansion of telehealth services, $2.5 million in grants for libraries, $20 million for expansion of broadband to unserved and underserved households, and $20 million for K-12 and higher education institutions.

As we recently reported, "unserved" refers to households that do not have access to the internet with 10 megabits per second of download speed and 1 megabit of upload speed, said Tim Arbeiter, director of DED's Office of Broadband Development.

The state is using federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act money to pay for the broadband funding. He noted more information about guidelines and the application process would be published in the coming days on the department's website.

President Trump is pushing governors to open schools this fall, which would mean less reliance on broadband internet access in homes. But with this virus, who knows what the future holds? Even if it is eradicated, the importance of broadband in education will only increase.

Even during tough economic times, this is money well spent.

News Tribune

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