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Senate discusses legislation to bring broadband to rural Missouri

Remko van Dokkum | Flickr

Two bills aim to expand high-speed broadband in rural parts of Missouri through contracts with electric cooperatives.

“The intent of the bills is to codify for the first time that it is public policy of the state of Missouri to provide access to high speed, reliable broadband,” said Senate bill sponsor Mike Cunningham, R-Rogersville, in opening statements to a Senate committee last week.

Cunningham said Senate Bill 820 and its House counterpart, HB 1880, would also clarify existing laws relating to damage awards for property owners when rural electric cooperatives install fiber and other infrastructure on their land.

“I believe it will be very easy for rural Missouri to access broadband through this deployment,” said Rep. Trent, R-Springfield, sponsor of the House bill, “The electric cooperatives are already using broadband to facilitate their electric transmissions; as a part of that, they are putting broadband in virtually every part of the state. It would be very easy to do that last mile to get that to the residential consumer.”

Louis Riggs with the Joint Broadband Committee of the Northeast Missouri Development Partnership testified that broadband access could have multiple benefits, such as improved course access for higher education students, telehealth services for underserved populations and the encouragement of small businesses through e-commerce.

“We have identified the expansion of broadband as the best way to bring our rural counties into the 21st century,” Riggs said.

Credit File photo | Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio
State Sen. Mike Cunningham, R-Rogersville, at center.

Opponents of the bill cite concerns over the compensation of property owners where necessary infrastructure is installed.

“The question is, it’s not what the telecommunications companies gain, it’s based on what the property owner loses,” said Sen. Gary Romine, R-Farmington. “The only real issue out there is why would the telecommunication companies make more profit by using the infrastructure and property owners not be compensated for it?”

Fred O’Neill, a cattleman, testified against the bills, detailing his poor experience with a telecommunications company after it installed fiber cables on his land in the early 2000s.

“The way they treated all the old men, my neighbors, in this condemnation action, they didn’t pay them a fair value for their land,” said O’Neill, “They pretty much bullied in my opinion.”

No action has yet been taken on the legislation.

Follow Erin on Twitter: @erinaachenbach