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Opinion: Missourians have opportunity to weigh in on broadband challenges

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Missourians have an incredible opportunity and responsibility to impact how broadband deployment funds will be distributed across our state. For the first time, Missourians can provide on-the-ground feedback about which homes and businesses still lack access to reliable, high-speed broadband.

Nobody knows better which communities and rural areas are underserved than the people who live there, and now is the time to make your voice heard. Once the map challenge process closes on April 23, the public will not have an opportunity to weigh in on how these federal taxpayer funds will be spent.

The state of Missouri is preparing to award $1.7 billion to expand broadband into the hardest to reach areas of the state. The Department of Economic Development’s Office of Broadband Development estimates that 400,000 homes and businesses are still unserved or underserved, so these taxpayer dollars will go a long way in bridging that coverage gap.

In order to make the best funding decisions possible, OBD has published an interactive map that the public can review. The map is an incredible tool that shows which locations, down to the address level, have access to broadband and which providers serve those areas. However, OBD knows that the map is not perfect.

All Missourians, but especially those who lack access to broadband, are encouraged to review the interactive map and confirm whether it represents your reality. The public can submit evidence of coverage availability and speed to help determine which locations should or should not be available for funding.

Is your location marked as served, underserved or unserved? Do you agree? If your location is marked as served, but you’re still struggling with your broadband service, you need to take action.

To submit evidence, you can take a speed test or upload information through the OBD reporting system. Taking a speed test through the interactive map is simple, but you must conduct the speed test through the online portal on three separate days before the challenge period closes on April 23. If you do not have broadband at all (or a particular provider is listed but cannot provide you with the service that is posted), you may need to upload information as evidence. Examples of evidence could include documents showing data caps, slow speeds, or letters or emails with internet service providers that state they could not provide you with service within 10 days. Speed tests and submitting evidence must be done on a computer, not a mobile device.

This public evidence will be gathered, aggregated and used to inform OBD about areas where the eligibility map may be inaccurate. Following April 23, the map will be updated with all the information gathered from the public, nonprofits, communities and internet service providers to be more reflective of the real-world broadband conditions in the state.

It is very important that people check whether the map accurately represents their residence and community, or they may become ineligible for funding. You can view the map now and learn more about the challenge process at the DED’s website. Resources for the public, including a tutorial video, are located under the “Public Evidence Submission” tab.

We live in a connected world where broadband is no longer a luxury but a necessity. We now rely on broadband for access to education, health care services, to run businesses and even for small tasks that streamline access to information. However, not everyone is technologically savvy. Remember to check in with your neighbors and family members who don’t have access to broadband and help them navigate this process. For those who can’t complete the evidence submission process at home, we encourage you to connect with your local extension office or library.

The federal taxpayer dollars dedicated to closing the broadband gap are a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Now is your chance to help make sure Missouri gets it right.

Garrett Hawkins, a farmer from Appleton City, is president of the Missouri Farm Bureau. He can be reached at garrett.hawkins@mofb.com.

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