Big River gets $24.3 million grant to expand rural Internet access
Project funded with federal stimulus money
Rural residents in St. Francois, Washington, Ste. Genevieve and Madison counties who currently have no access to the Internet will soon, according to Gov. Jay Nixon.
Nixon announced Thursday that Big River Broadband LLC will receive $24.3 million from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to expand Internet access in each county. The money is part of $1.2 billion in Internet grants announced Wednesday by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). More than $82 million of that money will go to Missouri.
Big River Broadband did not return calls from the Daily Journal Thursday to confirm or deny tips that the company would open a new office in Farmington and provide jobs for area workers.
The company plans to use the money to build infrastructure that will provide Internet access to 44,697 households and 7,511 businesses. Cost of the total project is estimated at $33.9 million.
Big River is one of the companies that the state partnered with in Nixon’s MoBroadbandNow, an initiative created last year to expand the reach of broadband across Missouri.
As part of the application to the USDA, Missouri pledged $150,000 in matching funds to help bring broadband to the region, Nixon said. The state matching funds will come from the federal budget stabilization fund, which was approved by the Missouri legislature for broadband enhancement projects.
The remaining cost to Big River Broadband will be funded by outside capital.
The federal money, which consists of grants and loans, will allow Big River to provide a wireless broadband network to rural residents in seven counties, including Perry, Bollinger and Cape Girardeau. It also will allow the company to create about 70 new jobs, as well as provide construction jobs for about 1,000 people.
According to Nonna Ross, program support officer for the USDA’s Rural Development, Big River will bring high speed Internet access to all or part of each of the seven counties. Download speeds will be up to 14.4 megabytes per second and upload speeds will be up to 4.8 megabytes per second. The company also will deploy a wireless broadband network to support high-speed connectivity to the Internet for data, voice and video applications, for both mobile and fixed locations.
Although a schedule has not yet been set, all infrastructure needed to provide the service must be in place within the next 20 months. Some customers could have the Internet access within six months, CEO Jerry Howe estimated in a Thursday afternoon phone conference with journalists.
Nixon made the announcement in Cape Girardeau, then participated in the phone conference. He said Internet access is to this century what railroads were to the 19th Century and interstate highways were to the 20th Century. Access is imperative for health care facilities and students in rural areas, who otherwise risk falling behind their urban peers academically.
“They have the potential to connect doctors and patients at the speed of light; open the doors of our colleges and universities to more students; and expand markets for small businesses to not only the rest of the state, but to markets across the globe,” Nixon said.
In addition to the $24,382,055 to Big River, about $24 million went to Socket Telcom in central Missouri, $21 million to Grand River Mutual Telephone Corp. in northern Missouri, more than $10 million to Windstream Corp. in southwestern Missouri. Broadband LLC, Orchard Farm Telephone Co. and Utopian Wireless Corp., smaller companies across the state, will get nearly $1 million each.
Only one Missouri project received broadband stimulus money in the first round: Pulse Broadband in northeast Missouri received a $19 million grant.
Additional broadband awards are expected to be announced by the end of September.
Paula Barr is a reporter for the Daily Journal and can be reached at 573-431-2010, ext. 172 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.