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Rural broadband, sports complex highlighted at town hall

A town hall meeting was held recently at Kelly A. Burlison Middle School in Fredericktown to discuss rural broadband and to briefly hear from county officials about the sports complex.

Fredericktown R-I Superintendent Brett Reutzel moderated the event and started things off by talking about the safety of the school district.

“School safety is on the agenda of every district meeting,” Reutzel said. “Every door has a camera and is locked. You have to be buzzed in.”

Reutzel said the district is blessed to have three school resource officers who are always where the kids are.

“We do everything we can to ensure the safety of our students,” Reutzel said. “I’d say it is our number one priority.”

Reutzel then introduced Representative Rick Francis to discuss rural broadband at the governmental level.

“The FCC tells us that 80 percent of Americans do not have internet from rural areas,” Francis said. “51 percent of Missourians geographically do not have internet, and the state is ranked 42 in the nation in internet access.”

Francis said quality of life is greatly impacted by whether or not internet services are available.

“The internet for the next 50 years is going to be as important as the telephone has been for the past 50 years,” Francis said. 

Francis said rural broadband is on both state and federal budgets giving hope for the future. He said Governor Eric Greitens is currently looking for someone to coordinate efforts to bring together federal, state and local efforts.

The main concern is cost. Francis said the cost to run fiber is $13,000 per mile above ground and $33,000 a mile under ground.

Invisilink President Jeff Tebow said the company currently has plans to add to the area and double its current area.

“We are going full swing in the next couple of weeks and have already ordered wire and will start installing,” Tebow said. “We do our best to provide you with the service that you need and appreciate your patience as we grow.”

Jomo Castro from AT&T then spoke of the future and what options they have to reach rural areas.

“We understand the importance and strive to provide the need,” Castro said. “We know that we can’t serve rural areas in the way we serve the cities.”

Castro said some options include fixed wireless, a concept that uses wireless to connect to wired antenna, and a project called air gig. He said that air gig is currently being tested in Georgia and could be a potential game changer to the technology.

“It is not a matter of if, but when,” Castro said. “There is going to be many different ways to connect in the future and at AT&T we pride ourselves on innovation. We know the future is bright, but we also know we can’t wait for it to get here.”

President of Big River Communications Kevin Cantwell said this is a matter of funding and everyone in the room was unhappy with their internet.

“We are all going to need faster and cheaper services in the future,” Cantwell said. “The internet is about economic development and putting our kids on the same playing field. It’s our responsibility to provide what our customers need to do what they need to do. We have to get this out. It’s not just about the tech, it’s about how we use it to be successful.”

“We did it with electric. We did it with water, and broadband is no longer a luxury. It is a necessity,” Cantwell said.

Francis said co-ops have been fearful to run broadband lines on current utility right of ways due to backlash received by farmers who claim it is not a utility. He said Bill 1880 will help co-ops by preventing frivolous lawsuits and protect them when they are trying to run lines on current utility right of ways.

“There’s no reason the next Google or next Twitter couldn’t come out of Fredericktown Missouri,” Francis said. “Your presence tonight is showing your interest.”

Madison County Commissioner Larry Kemp then discussed the partnership between the City of Fredericktown and Madison County to build a sports complex.

Kemp said the project will be located behind Auto Plaza Ford and should begin in two weeks.

“This is going to be a quality field and something we can be proud of and attract tournaments,” Kemp said. “If you have the fields you can draw them in. Once they are here they will eat at our restaurants and spend time in our town.”

Madison County Presiding Commissioner Bob Mooney then held up a booklet from when the city first approached the county about the sports complex dated Jan. 5, 2013. Kemp also had a scale model of one of the fields for the community to see.

The town hall meeting was organized by Debby Boone, Kelcey Skaggs, Rick Francis and Jennifer McClanahand.

Fredericktown Mayor Kelly Korokis (right) looks at a booklet and examines a scale model of one of the fields proposed for a sports complex.

Fredericktown Mayor Kelly Korokis (right) looks at a booklet and examines a scale model of one of the fields proposed for a sports complex.

Rick Francis leads the discussion about rural broadband with Jomo Castro from AT&T, Kevin Cantwell and Chris Foeste from Big River Communications, and Eddie Trower from Charter at the town hall meeting in Fredericktown.

Rick Francis leads the discussion about rural broadband with Jomo Castro from AT&T, Kevin Cantwell and Chris Foeste from Big River Communications, and Eddie Trower from Charter at the town hall meeting in Fredericktown.

Victoria Kemper is a reporter for the Daily Journal. She can be reached at 573-783-3366 or at vkemper@democratnewsonline.com

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