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Grassroots effort helps Missouri gain billions in federal broadband funding

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(The Center Square) – Missouri’s share of $42 billion in federal funds for expanding broadband infrastructure was partially dependent on verifying areas without internet throughout the state.

Late last year, the University of Missouri staff and faculty in 34 of the state’s 114 counties worked with citizens to document areas without broadband on Federal Communications Commission maps. The effort resulted in 186 challenges to federal maps showing broadband availability. It resulted in an additional $810,000, or $4,354 per challenge.

“Challenges filed early this year and late last year contributed to increased funding for our program by essentially establishing more unserved locations,” Adam Thorp, a community development specialist with the Missouri Department of Economic Development’s Office of Broadband, said during a monthly update on Friday. “We had a decent amount of success getting challenges filed and they did release a pretty substantial additional amount of money.”

Thorp gave credit to the University of Missouri for the coordination.

“They gave us a presence in every county in the state,” Thorp said. “People could come in and get questions answered about the challenge process and help people with Internet connectivity issues.”

The accuracy of the maps was vital to Missouri receiving approximately $42 billion in federal funds for broadband expansion earlier this summer, according to information from the university.

“It’s a great example of hands-on, local work with a big impact,” Alison Copeland, the university’s chief engagement officer said in a statement.

Missouri received the third-highest award in the nation when it received $1.7 billion through the Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment Program. An additional $24 million will be designated to assist rural, elderly, veterans, formerly incarcerated, and minorities with broadband access and adoption.

The university and the Office of Broadband collaborated with 19 regional planning councils throughout the state to prepare for broadband infrastructure projects and hold dozens of community meetings.

“Ten years from now, Missourians will look back at this time and wonder how anyone ever lived without broadband,” BJ Tanksley, director of the Office of Broadband, said in a statement. “Like rural electrification more than a century ago, universal broadband will become a given in every corner and community in the state.”

Lincoln University in Jefferson City received $2.9 million from the federal Connecting Minority Communities Pilot program. The goal of the project is to provide historically black colleges and universities and tribal colleges with funding to buy broadband equipment, services and train informational technology personnel.

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