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Going Public: Missouri Expands Broadband Access To Rural And Remote Communities

Chris Foeste / Big River Communications

  Southeast Missouri continues to struggle with broadband accessibility in remote and rural areas. 

The FCC states more than 147,000 households -- or almost 400,000 Missourians, don’t have access to high-speed Internet.   

Chris Foeste, Vice President at Circle Fiber, a new project developed by Big River Communications in Cape Girardeau, has formulated a new expansion process to provide more Missourians with phone and internet service. 

Circle Fiber is a broadband networking system that provides ‘gigabit’ internet services, a new high-speed service particularly beneficial to companies, entrepreneurs, or towns looking to install community networking. 

In the expansion process, the product has already been implemented at various locations including Sikeston, Jackson, and Poplar Bluff. 

Recently, the tech district in Downtown Cape Girardeau adapted the service, allowing small businesses to save time and increase productivity. The service has also provided downtown Cape Girardeau free public wifi for community members. 

“It opens up opportunities for that kind of economic development in Cape Girardeau, but also, having fiber fed public WiFi allows them on a nice sunny day to take their laptop or tablet and they can go work outside on the courthouse steps or downtown by the by the river, they've got options to go out and have that connectivity .” said Foeste. 

Foeste mentioned that the service isn't just for community members, it also provides travelers a lasting impression on the town.

“Whenever different caravans or incoming visitors come to Cape, they've got connectivity to the internet so that they can process transactions, they've got connectivity to post to their social media and let people know about the future of downtown businesses-- having that fiber there in gives them, cost effective, high bandwidth solution to their businesses.” 

After its trial in the tech district, the service is now expanding to Cape Girardeau households.

However, broadband access isn't just a matter of reach. Big River launched Fiber Communications in 2012 bringing a new 4g LTE network into rural locations in Southeast Missouri, but over time, networks with too many users can become oversaturated. 

“We are trying to get to a point where we can move some of the bigger broadband customers off of that network and onto circle fiber to free up those wireless resources to reach even further out into the rural community. So it's not a matter of just getting email, it's about economics,” said Foeste.

As broadband continues to expand, Fiber networks offer direct connectivity via the fiber optic cable operating at higher speeds. 

“With our current system deployed with the 4g LTE, you've got some limitations that are put in place, whether it's either the spectrum that's available in the air or the amount of bandwidth available at the base of the tower, and especially in our areas, geography obviously played a huge role,” said Foeste. 

Foeste explained that while rural areas need more internet access generally, all communities will eventually need to grow bandwidth because of the increased rate of users and the saturation of networks, ultimately moving to fiber platforms. 

“If you don't need more bandwidth now, even a month, even a year, you will soon, because we will all keep adding more and more devices--the average household now has somewhere between 20 and 30 devices that feed off of the internet connection whether that's wireless or wired,” said Foeste.

Foeste explained that though the fiber network and gigabit internet were once targeted at bigger businesses, as the expansion process continues, these services are accessible to all individuals and provide various advantages.

“It's about reliability, you get a connection that's not going to get interfered with during a storm, you get the bandwidth to do new streaming capabilities--, it allows for you to connect more devices that might have been limited before,” said Foeste. “If you have gigabit internet access to your home, there's options for remote telework, telemedicine, things that just aren't available with smaller bands.”

Broadband access in Missouri has also been discussed in recent legislative news, with Gov. Mike Parson announcing plans to distribute $400 million in American Rescue Plan Act funds to increase broadband internet access, adoption, and assistance statewide on August 19th.   

The project is pending approval from the U.S. Department of Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration. 

If the legislation is passed, the funding could support up to 19 networking projects, connecting more than 17,000 households, businesses, and other institutions in the state..


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