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Broadband Funds Could Help Missouri Close Digital Divide


Missouri is battling a persistent gap between its high-speed internet haves and have-nots. But a windfall from Washington—of up to $1 billion— could help close that divide.

In May and June, Missouri’s Office of Broadband Development plans a 20-stop public listening tour to help determine how the state can best use the funds.

“For a state like Missouri trying frantically to catch up, this money is going to be a game changer,” says Jay Hardenbrook, AARP Missouri’s advocacy director. He encourages members to attend the listening sessions and talk about the importance of high-speed internet—also known as broadband—for those over 50, as well as barriers to using it.

With broadband, everyday online activities—from shopping and banking to socializing and telehealth—can be transformed from slow and glitchy to fast and easy.

Missouri ranks below the national average when it comes to fixed broadband access, excluding cellular and satellite service. About 320,000 locations in the state lack access to the minimum speeds, according to the latest estimates by the state’s broadband office. Urban areas enjoy near total coverage (99.7 percent) compared with 67.7 percent rural coverage.

The Federal Communications Commission defines high-speed internet service as having minimum speeds of at least 25 megabits per second (Mbps) for downloading and 3 Mbps for uploading. (To check your speed, go to

Speeding ahead online

Carolyn Boemler, 62, considers herself lucky. She and her husband live on 40 acres in an unincorporated community near Bloomfield, in the state’s southeast corner. They enjoy a speedy fiber connection in a region the technology has been slow to reach.

When COVID-19 hit, Boemler’s St. Louis employer switched her to remote work. With her rural broadband connection, she could work from their country house. “It allowed us to fast-forward our plans for the future,” she says.

Now that she’s retired, the connection saves her a two-hour drive for doctor visits she can attend virtually. It also makes for snag-free Zoom meetings with friends, speedy weather alerts and smooth movie streaming.

Full participation in the digital world matters for individuals and for the state as a whole, says Alison Copeland, deputy chief engagement officer for the University of Missouri System, which is working with the state’s broadband office on the listening tour.

“Access to internet is a modern- day utility, no different than electricity,” Copeland says. “It will become more and more a central part of living in communities where you can grow and flourish.”

The new federal money to expand broadband will come largely from the Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment Program, part of the federal infra-structure law passed in 2021. Missouri will receive an initial allocation of $100 million, and the state’s total broadband funding could total more than $1 billion by 2028, says BJ Tanksley, director of the broadband development office. Updated coverage maps, expected in June, will determine Missouri’s exact share.

Another provision in the infra-structure law includes more than $20 million for non-infrastructure projects, including computer skills training and help with internet affordability.

Missouri plans to solicit input from rural residents, the aging population, low-income households, veterans, people with disabilities and minorities.

For meeting dates and details, visit Those who can’t attend may comment at or 573-526-1028.

Sarah Hollander is a writer living in Cleveland.

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