ROLLA — More than $60 million in grants and low-interest loans is headed to Missouri as part of a U.S. Department of Agriculture program to increase broadband internet access in rural areas.
Six businesses are receiving the grants to install fiber optic internet lines that will bring high-speed service to areas that have little to no access.
Gascosage Electric Cooperative is one of those businesses. It provides electricity to rural areas of Camden, Maries, Miller, Phelps and Pulaski counties in south-central Missouri. This grant is part of its entry into the internet service provider market.
“We’re really a natural choice for this,” said Gascosage General Manager Carmen Hartwell. “We already have the infrastructure in place and a history of bringing utilities to rural residents.”
Gascosage is receiving $7 million in grants and $7 million in low-interest loans to lay fiber optic cable in three phases. The customers in the first phase could have access by the end of the year. The whole project will be complete by 2024.
In total, this will bring high-speed internet to 1,100 households, 20 farms, 20 businesses, and two rural fire-protection districts. But the intent is for the improvements to benefit the entire region.
“When we take a look at educational opportunities and economic development, internet access may stimulate growth of businesses in our area,” Hartwell said. “It might bring more people into our area that otherwise maybe telecommute for their jobs. Now, they’re going to be able to live on family farms.”
Gascosage has increased its presence in economic development efforts in recent years, and improved internet access is a common refrain it hears.
“When we go to meetings, one of the top requests of school officials, city officials, everyone who has attended these meetings that we’ve participated in, broadband is their top request,” said Melinda Stormes, office manager at Gascosage.
Other Missouri companies receiving funding for rural broadband access include Mid-States Services of Trenton, Green Hills Telephone in Caldwell and Livingston counties, Total Highspeed in Greene County and Marshall Municipal Utilities in Saline County.
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