The excitement of moving into our new home had faded to the reality of the work of unpacking. Monday night as my wife and I were unpacking the last boxes in the garage, we were interrupted by the sound of children playing in the street. Our two kids quickly grabbed their bikes to join in the fun. Our previous home hadn’t had many young neighbors, and it was a heartwarming moment to see other kids around and ours so happy to introduce themselves.
As the four kids played, four parents stood on the sidewalk exchanging pleasantries and background stories. We talked about the same things all new people do. “Where are you from? What do you do? What brings you to town?” During our conversations home and work quickly collided. As conversation turned to homes, the topic of Internet came up. In our new town, options are limited, and I was interested to learn the local service of choice. My new friend’s response was, “You’re going to hate me.” Because at his house on the opposite end of the street, he has the choice of two providers while my end of the street is left with only one choice for wired Internet that doesn’t meet the definition of high-speed broadband.
Unfortunately, this wasn’t a surprise to me. Working for Missouri Farm Bureau, I hear of the same situation from our members across the state. That’s why, for the past few years, rural broadband has been a major topic of conversation. Nationally, Missouri ranks 42nd in broadband availability, a number becoming real to me in my new small-town home. To get a better idea what the ranking means for people in Missouri, MFB conducted a survey regarding broadband during the 2017 State Fair. The results confirmed what most suspected: 16 percent of respondents don’t have Internet at their home. Of those who do have Internet, 64 percent don’t have high-speed broadband and more than 50 percent are receiving Internet through either cell service or a satellite provider. There was one result that shocked me. When asked about their current Internet services, well over 60 percent were either dissatisfied or very dissatisfied with their speed, cost, reliability and choice of providers.
In some areas of Missouri, Internet service is no different than turning on a light switch, but for many Missourians that isn’t the case. For those who are unserved and underserved, this isn’t about entertainment (although we may use Facebook and Netflix like everyone else). Broadband availability allows the best healthcare, education and economic development opportunities to reach anywhere in the state. That’s why Missouri Farm Bureau will continue to focus on and talk about this issue until all Missourians have access to reliable, affordable, high-speed Internet, no matter which end of the street you live on.