Missouri works to increase high speed internet access and usage in the Heartland

Representatives of MoBroadbandNow visit Memphis, Mo. to discuss the area's access and usage of broadband internet.

The purpose of the meeting was to release a report that details Northeast Missouri's strategic plan to increase access and adoption of high speed internet. Currently the area has 14 providers.

After sending out a survey in the mail in May 2011 to 4,000 homes randomly selected, 573 of them returned the surveys, and 400 of them were used for analysis. The results were as follows:

-88% of the respondents living in Northeast Missouri, (Schuyler, Adair, Knox, Scotland, Lewis and Clark Counties), own a computer, and 56% of those who own a computer have had it for more than 10 years.

-12% of the respondents do not own a computer. Their reasons for not owning one include too expensive, don't want or need one, or don't know how to use it.

-88% of computer owners have adopted internet services

-75% of those with broadband have high-speed internet

-The most prominent broadband service in Northeast Missouri is DSL- 47% of broadband user have it.

-54% of the businesses in Northeast Missouri use a cable modem

-25% of the respondents who said they do not have access to broadband service live in rural areas, mostly in Clark and Lewis counties

-Average cost of broadband in the region is $30

In terms of access to high speed internet, 100% of Adair County respondents have it, 99.6% of Knox County respondents, 99.4% of Schuyler County respondents, and 99.9% of Scotland County respondents have access.

CenturyTel, Mark Twain, and Northeast Missouri Rural Telephone were the three most frequently mentioned providers.

The survey results also identified the digital divide and found that rural respondents were more likely to have a computer and use the internet, but a little less likely than non-rural respondents to adopt broadband.

The Director for MoBroadbandNow said the three challenges the region faces are availability-especially in rural areas, usage, and familiarity with how to utilize the computer and internet.

"Well, one of our big goals is to make sure at least 95 percent of the residents in this region have access to broadband, that's it's affordable, that the speeds are at the level that they need to get the job done and to make sure that all segments of the community are connected," said Damon Porter, Director of MoBroadbandNow. "So we make sure our hospitals our schools, our businesses, courthouses, libraries are all connected."

The report indicates that some of the issues the area has include:

-rural areas lacking wireless access

-K-12 Education-difficulty assigning homework that utilizes the internet because some students do not have access at home.

-Local governments having difficulty putting services online because it would alienate residents who do not have access at home.

-Businesses having difficulty recruiting online when residents do not look for jobs online because they do not have access at home.

-Lack of competition, which inhibits speed, capacity, and cost

The report found that some of the weaknesses the area has when it comes to broadband adoption are:

-A significant number of people in Northeast Missouri have broadband services available but are not using them

-More small businesses need digital literacy to get online and maximize broadband connection speed

-Applications can't be implemented with a lack of robust broadband and lack of internet and digital literacy

-Economic development, healthcare, education, and libraries are hindered where there is a lack of digital literacy and access to computers at home

-Digital based skills needed in the workforce.

Some of the opportunities the report identified are:

-Fiber development in Northeast Missouri

-Investment in Northeast Missouri for economic development

-Those with broadband want more choices in terms of speed capacities, vender choice, improved reliability.

A company called the Bluebird Network has received $64 million, ($45 million of it being federal stimulus funds) to build a fiber optic network in Northeast Missouri that will allow internet providers to give their customers faster internet service.

"The great benefit for having fiber optic network is that it has a long shelf life. And it has endless capacity. So as technology changes, as the demand for faster speed, the demand for more bandwidth increases, fiber has the ability to take that load."

Bluebird Network has until 2013 to complete the project.

Some of the goals of the MoBroadbandNow Initiative include:

-Short term: on a local level, institutions and government entities give old or unused computers to those who want them but can't afford them.

- Intermediate Goal: in three, four, or five years, find a way to provide low cost tablet computers to those who want access to computers but do not have them

-Long term goal: 6 years or later- ensure that all of those in the region who desire computers receive one.

Governor Jay Nixon started the MoBroadbandNow Initiative in 2009, when only 79 percent of Missouri's population had access to broadband. Nixon hopes the goal will be met by 2014.