FILE - Rural broadband

Earth digger used to help lay cables for rural broadband connection.

(The Center Square) – Republican Gov. Mike Parson announced Monday more than $90 million of a $261 million broadband infrastructure grant will go to opposite corners of rural Missouri.

The funding comes from the federal American Rescue Plan Act broadband infrastructure grant program and will be distributed to 22 companies for 60 projects. The funds are expected to connect more than 55,000 locations without adequate internet access.

White River Valley Electric Cooperative will receive $47.4 million for seven projects in Christian, Douglas, Ozark, Stone and Taney counties in southwest Missouri. Chariton Valley Communications will receive $43.4 million for 10 projects in Adair, Knox, Marion, Macon, Monroe, Shelby and Ralls counties in northeast Missouri. The only grant close to a major metropolitan area was $25 million to Gateway Infrastructure for four projects in Lincoln, St. Charles and Warren counties, located outside the St. Louis area.

The grants won’t cover the entire cost of projects as they exceed $390 million, according to the Department of Economic Development’s Office of Broadband. More than 300 applications were received and $1.3 billion was requested by corporations, partnerships, limited liability companies, nonprofit organizations and local governments.

A process to challenge applications resulted in more than 500 objections to approximately 230 projects. Challenges included organizations stating they currently provide broadband internet in an area where another organization’s grant application was proposing coverage. Other challenges were to organizations currently developing broadband infrastructure in areas where applicants proposed development. Internet providers with an "enforceable commitment" to provide service challenged applicants desiring to do so in the same area and timeframe.

The Office of Broadband’s website states the number of challenges far exceeded estimates. Therefore, it prioritized challenges to the highest-scoring and most viable grant applications to “announce awards within a reasonable timeframe. While this means that a large portion of the challenges submitted never went through a full challenge review, these challenges were attached to applications that would most likely not have been funded anyway due to lower scores. Out of the applications challenged, 34 ultimately were placed on the final awards list.”

In August 2021, Parson announced a $400 million broadband infrastructure plan using ARPA funds. Missouri ranked 32nd in the nation in broadband access with 147,000 unserved or underserved households, according to the Missouri Office of Broadband. Approximately 400,000 out of 6 million Missourians don’t have reliable internet access.

Parson said the grants are a major step forward in providing broadband throughout the state.

“Our goal with American Rescue Plan Act funds is to make investments that have a lasting, positive impact for Missourians statewide,” the governor said in a statement. “Today, we have accomplished that for broadband expansion, which is vital to supporting education, health care, business, and agriculture in today’s economy.”

In addition to addressing unserved and underserved geographic areas, the funding is intended to address areas of critical need and increase internet speeds. The Office of Broadband set a benchmark of 100 megabits per second or greater for both internet downloads and uploads.

Staff Reporter

Joe Mueller covers Missouri for The Center Square. After seven years of reporting for daily newspapers in Illinois and Missouri, he spent the next 30 years in public relations serving non-profit organizations and as a strategic communications consultant.