Parts of rural Missouri to get Gigabit speeds with new spectrum initiative

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Image Credit Above: A fiber optic cable used to provide broadband internet service. (Jens B’ttner | AP Images)

A new initiative from one of Missouri’s largest internet service providers promises to bring super-fast broadband speeds to areas where they’re desperately needed.

Charter Communications, which provides the Spectrum service, recently announced a $ 5 billion initiative that will focus on developing broadband in 24 states, reaching approximately 1 million unserved customer sites. The construction will include $ 1.2 billion in money from the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) which was awarded to the company at the end of 2020.

Charter Communications’ broadband expansion plan includes parts of 33 counties in Missouri (highlighted in blue). (Courtesy | Charter Communications)

More than $ 48 million in RDOF funding will help bring projects to 61,524 sites in 33 counties in Missouri.

While this is a step in the right direction, especially in areas that will receive new service, there is still a long way to go to connect Missouri. An estimated 780,000 Missourians do not have access to broadband internet speeds, according to Broadband now. The current COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the need to increase internet access statewide.

Especially for people who will benefit from extended Internet access, the new connections will not only offer average Internet speeds. Each new location will have the capacity to achieve gigabit speeds, which are approximately 40 times faster than the Federal Communications Commission current definition of broadband of 25 megabits per second download speeds and 3 megabits per second download speeds. second.

“The network charter that will be built in these rural areas will provide 1 (gigabit per second) broadband access to all newly serviced customer locations with startup speeds of 200 (megabits per second), allowing consumers to s ‘engage in distance learning, work, telemedicine and other applications that require high bandwidth, low latency connectivity,’ according to a company spokesperson.

Johnson County, Missouri will receive the most locations and money from the Charter initiative, with more than $ 12 million in RDOF funding going to nearly 6,500 locations. According to BroadbandNow, 61% of Johnson County residents now have access to broadband speeds.

“This is positive news for Johnson County, Missouri,” Johnson County Economic Development Corporation executive director Tracy Brantner said in an email. “As in most rural areas, the availability of providers, reliability and affordability of broadband for residents and businesses of Johnson County are critical to our economic health.

“With the availability of broadband, the Johnson Countians can work remotely, take classes from home, and access telehealth and other important services from their homes. With the availability of broadband, businesses may have the opportunity to grow and provide additional products and services that were previously limited by capacity. “

Corporate and federal partnership

In the past, large vendors have been reluctant to reach the “last mile” of households requiring individual construction to service their specific home because this is not financially viable for the business. However, with the addition of public funds, businesses can reach individual households in need of services.

“I would say projects like this are possible, but they’re more likely if you have a mix of funding,” said Jessica Denson, director of communications for ConnectedNation. “When you are dealing with rural areas, you have a lot to do when it comes to investing in laying new fibers or installing them in towers to reach that last mile. “

Charter called the project a multi-year initiative. According to the RDOF, companies will have to meet certain construction requirements over a six-year period.

Tim Arbeiter, director of the Missouri Office of Broadband Development, said Charter is still awaiting full FCC approval and expects construction to begin within six months once companies are given the green light.

In a press release, the company said that the timely execution of projects will depend on external factors such as pole permits.

“The more we cooperate with pole owners and utility companies, the faster we can connect these communities to high-speed Internet services,” said Tom Rutledge, president and CEO of Charter Communications, in a statement.

The project is expected to expand the existing construction organization within the company and require 2,000 new employees nationwide to complete the construction.

Some vendors have expressed concerns about RDOF funding.

A High Speed ​​Lunch item covering the Incompas 2021 Political Summit cited two broadband executives who were concerned about the low amount of money being given to small providers who are focused on bridging the digital divide in their state. One of those companies was IdeaTek Telecom, based in Kansas. Daniel Friesen, Managing Member and Head of Innovation at IdeaTek, said he was confused because his company missed big contracts awarded to other vendors.

“We racked our brains throughout the process,” Friesen said in the article. “We weren’t really a big winner. Obviously this was disappointing for us.

The Charter initiative will not provide coverage in Kansas.

More soon

According to Denson with ConnectedNation, there are three steps to providing Internet service to unserved people: access, adoption, and use.

Access allows people to get broadband speeds, adoption ensures it’s affordable for people, and use involves educating people on how to use the new connection. These three elements are essential to ensure that unserved areas can effectively use the Internet for their daily needs.

“It’s important because someone can have access to high speeds, but then they pay three times what you pay in an urban area, that’s the challenge,” Denson said.

Charter will be offering the same Spectrum plans to these new areas which are available to all of their customers. The lowest being $ 49.99 per month at download speeds of 200 megabits per second.

Denson says the project will help rural populations who are in desperate need of access, especially during the pandemic.

“When you talk about rural, we are talking about millions of people who are being left behind,” she said. “It tells you that rural and low-income people really need to be addressed. “

Jacob Douglas covers rural affairs for Kansas City PBS in cooperation with Report for America.

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