The Missouri House Special Interim Committee on Broadband Development has issued its final report and recommendations for improving access to broadband and broadband applications. The Committee was appointed last year by House Speaker Rob Vescovo, and included Representatives Louis Riggs (Chair), Cyndi Buchheit-Courtway, Bishop Davidson, Travis Fitzwater, Jay Mosely, Wes Rogers, and Travis Smith.
The Report summarizes findings from at least 11 public meetings and testimony from over 40 witnesses; together with appendices and transcripts, it is more than 500 pages in length. The Report addresses issues of internet access, connection speed, and affordability, as well as the need for progress to improve adoption of internet-based applications for online education, telehealth, precision agriculture, workforce development, and entrepreneurship.
While acknowledging that the state has made some progress over the past several years – moving up from 41st to 32nd in the FCC state ranking for broadband access, the Committee concluded that “there is still a tremendous amount of work to do in order to move Missouri from below the middle of the pack into the Top 10 states in the country.” To illustrate the point, the Report noted that Missouri ranks 44 out of 50 states in home use of fixed broadband and 15th in the nation for households with no internet access at all.
Several recommendations were made to improve on these statistics, including the creation of legislative committees in the Missouri House and Senate dedicated exclusively to broadband expansion and oversight, along with a “Broadband Development Council” to enhance stakeholder engagement, ensure accountability and provide meaningful public oversight. As part of this effort the Committee called for a publicly accessible internet testing and mapping resource that would show actual internet connection speeds in real-time.
More funding for the Missouri Broadband Office within the Department of Economic Development was recommended to increase amounts available through the state’s broadband infrastructure matching grant program over the next three years and to provide additional staff to improve oversight of internet providers that participate in this program. The Committee recommended increasing connectivity speeds in the state’s definition of broadband, so that public funding would be available in areas lacking connectivity at speeds of at least 100 Mbps download and 20 Mbps upload and modifying the definition so that those standards automatically adjust in conjunction with future increases in the federal standard. At the same time, the Committee acknowledged that some public funding support should be available for connection speeds at lower levels for extremely remote last-mile locations, until technological advances permit these to be phased out.
Finally, the Report recommended legislation to encourage and streamline deployment of broadband, including the use of government-owned structures and broadband assets to expand service to homes and businesses through participation in public-private partnerships. Specific recommendations included overhaul of right-of-way access, streamlining resolution of utility make-ready and pole attachment cost disputes, and the institution of “Dig Once” policies to require more efficient and cost-effective installation of broadband infrastructure.
Several of these recommendations appear to be included in legislation proposed in the Missouri General Assembly this session. For example, Senate Bill 981 changes the definition of broadband and Senate Bill 990 addresses part of the make ready and pole replacement cost issue.