Going Public: Mapping The Broadband Gap and The Goal of 'Connecting All Missourians'
Late in December 2022, KRCU Public Radio spoke with BJ Tanksley, the Director of Broadband Development about the nearly $3 million received in federal grants through the U.S. Department of Commerce's National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), to enhance the ongoing efforts of the Office of Broadband Development to expand high-speed internet access statewide.
Missourians have until Jan. 13, 2023, to file challenges to FCC maps of broadband coverage in time to affect the share of more than $42 billion in funding through the 'Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) Program'.
The following is a transcript from the full interview in late December 2022, shortly after the 'Map the Broadband Gap' initiative was announced.
Tell me more about what you're working on right now. The Office of Broadband Development, which I think is a fairly new office, tell me more about what this office does, and what your goals are going forward into the new year.
Yeah, thank you very much for the opportunity. The Office of Broadband has been kind of reestablished in the state of Missouri as a part of the Department of Economic Development for about four years now. You may remember, from Cape Girardeau, Tim Arbeiter, head of the Office for several years before I came here last year (2021).
Our goal is to promote connectivity around the state and help bring high speed internet service to areas that do not have it. We know this has been a major issue for Missourians across the state. And luckily, with federal funding coming through the state, we now have the opportunity to take a big swing at connecting Missourians that have you currently have either poor service or no service available at all.
We have a huge opportunity in front of us. Our office will be making announcements of American Rescue Plan Act funds, ARPA funded projects here, in the next couple of weeks. And then coming very soon, carrying out the initiatives of our connecting all Missourians campaign, with which we will try to do just that bring a connection to all Missourians. That effort is actually funded by the infrastructure investment and jobs act, and promises unprecedented funding for the State of Missouri.
But in order to get all those funds, we need Missourians to take part in what we're promoting right now, which is going to the FCC new map, checking their locations and making sure that they're accurately represented. That map means an amount of funding back to the state of Missouri, essentially funding to bring service to that location. So we need as many people as we can get around the state to go check their locations, areas they're familiar with, and make sure that they're accurately represented, so that we can then bring service or help with willing providers to bring service to those areas. There's a lot going over the over the holiday seasons, but hopefully people have the chance over the next few weeks to go in and do that. It's pretty user friendly, and we've tried to put together tools. But we have a great big push going on right now for just that.
To someone who may not be as familiar with what really constitutes the term broadband— We hear that term a lot. But what does that really mean as far as how much someone is able to, let's say, download or access as far as the internet goes?
Yeah, that's a great question. You know, it's always one of those that broadband is in the eye of the beholder. You know, it's it is what it means to you. We like to say it is a service that allows you to do the things you need to whether that be work from home or educate, or do even tele-health services.
The state doesn't have an official definition. But our funding sources, typically at this point, or funding services have 100 [megabyte/second] upload and download speeds—that's 100[MB/s] by 100[MB/s].
Oftentimes, you hear people talking about that upload, download speed, and that's what we're typically funding. Now, as far as places we can fund—at this point, people without access to 100 by 20, are considered underserved by most federal standards. And that means that we can actually work within those areas to bring more quality service. A lot of times we see people with high download speeds, and that's when you're bringing in a signal.
But that upload side is the other one that's very important, and making sure that you're able to exchange information, while we consider kind of those higher level usages, not just entertainment and video streaming, but being able to do conference calls work from home sharing files, things like that require a high upload speed as well. So we're always cognizant of that, when we're considering funding and at this point, like I said, funding 100 by 100 projects to have that good speed of both upload and download.
I'm just looking at this area in general—[how many] broadband companies do you estimate, or service providers are there in Missouri, or at least just in Southeast Missouri?
Yeah, it's in Southeast Missouri, there's a good list, good number. But you don't have to go too far west of what I consider Southeast Missouri, to see an area that doesn't have an overwhelming number of providers. And it's not that much different across the state where we see our populated areas have either one provider or multiple providers bringing good or decent service.
But then when you get not too far outside of the population centers, you see people struggling with connectivity. And that's where the funds that we're talking about can help bridge that gap.
The truth is that broadband is expensive, you know, you're either running a fiber line or high tech technology, and that is expensive to get to people. And so the funds that we have available can bridge that funding gap, to make it make sense for new providers to come into areas and serve those that currently don't have it.
I don't have a list of providers right in front of me right now. But I do know, you've seen some new providers pop up around the Southeast Missouri region, and they're reaching out into those areas that have, you know, service or don't have service. And we're excited to see that, because we know they're still we did a study of the state of Missouri, there was somewhere in the neighborhood of 400,000 locations that still didn't have access. And that included a good number in the Southeast Missouri region.
And you know, in this environment, a lot of businesses are still operating with what might be barely DSL or even pretty close to dial up. Because if you're working with satellite, broadband, well, not even satellite broadband, but just satellite internet, I know that the the download speed may, as you were speaking about earlier, may be 'okay', but that upload speed is just really, really slow. So if you're working remotely, it's almost you know, if you're processing a payment, just a really simple interaction, that can take quite a while. And that can even take longer if it's severe weather or inclement weather, I think maybe a lot of people don't really think about that.
You're exactly right. And that's why we really try to stress that both the download and upload speeds need to be good. You know, the Office of broadband is a part of the Department of Economic Development. And I keep tell people all the time, being able to stream you know, Yellowstone, or whatever your favorite show is, is great. But we're really here to make sure people can work from home, and learn from home and do tele-health services, and communicate with others actually sharing information, and that takes a good upload speed and a reliable service.
You said it best— you know, it doesn't matter—you need that service to be available in bad weather situations. And in, you know, in those inopportune times.
The truth is a lot of times at this point, a high speed connection is our connection to the world—you need it when you need it. And that sometimes, that might be when there's bad weather. So we have to make sure we have reliable and services that people can work with—whether you're a farmer exchanging data, or someone who may need tele-health services at home.
I was talking to a company the other day, who works with people that are going through, you know, long-term health care situations. And they say in areas with good service, they can send people home, and still have the right monitoring, and they can live as normal lives as possible as they're continuing their treatments. But where they're not, they're not able to do that. And so that has real implications on people's lives and the outcomes. And so that's why there's multiple reasons, but that's one reason why it's so important that we get service to as many people as we can at this opportune time.
Once this map has been filled out—how much money do you estimate will go towards the development of these broadband services in the state of Missouri.
Yeah, it's hard for us to say exactly what we will get with the 'Connecting All Missourians Campaign'.
Every state has a promised, at least $100 million, plus then our share of the $42 billion in the big pot—and so that share is the number of un-served Missourians that need service, versus the need of the country as a whole. And so that's why it's very important people go to ded2.mo.gov/connecting-all-missourians and follow those instructions there, check them that make sure that you're accurately represented, because that's going to have a direct impact on the amount of funding we receive.
You know, what we do know is, it's going to be unprecedented funding, you know, we got $200 and about $265 million in ARPA funds, that the legislature and the governor helped to get to us, and we're very appreciative that we're getting ready to do great work with that. This promises even more funding than that. That way we can do a lot of projects around the state over the next several years towards the ultimate goal of bringing connections to even more unconnected Missouri
Like I said, a couple of things: Go to that website, ded2.mo.gov/connecting-all-missourians, go check out that new FCC map. And the better that map is, the more funding we will receive in the state. So please, we need our citizens to engage in that.
The other thing is, [I know] it's kind of backwards to ask people that don't have a connection to go check a website. That's why we've partnered with the libraries around the state that have access to this information, as well as the local University of Missouri Extension offices, who are all there and trained with how to get people connected to the map, and then how to contest the map if it's not accurate.
So you can go to those local [sites] or reach out to us at our office as well. And we would be glad to help people through that process. But yeah, we did set up some local contacts so that people can do that. We're aware that using the website to connect those that may not be connected, may not be the best way to reach a local area.
Yeah, absolutely. Well, once again, that deadline—you said is January 13th.
Now people can continue to weigh in, and that will affect who we can fund—but not the funding we receive.
Okay. All right. Well, thank you so much for joining us. From the Missouri Department of Economic Development and the Department of Economic Development's Office of Broadband Development—BJ Tanksley.
Thank you very much.
Transcript provided by Otter.AI