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New research bolsters broadband access in rural areas

Two individuals sit at a wooden table in an office, talking animatedly over a laptop and notes.
Michael Pierce
Missouri S&T
Javier Valentín-Sívico confers with his adviser, Dr. Casey Canfield, an assistant professor of engineering management and systems engineering. Less than 12 hours after S&T’s Kummer College was officially established, Valentín-Sívico successfully defended his dissertation, “Evaluating Barriers to and Impacts of Rural Broadband Access.”

Access to high-speed broadband is severely limited in many rural areas — but new research troubleshoots the issue.

Javier Valentín-Sívico recently defended his dissertation — “Evaluating Barriers to, and Impacts of, Rural Broadband Access” — on his way to receiving the first doctorate granted by Missouri University of Science and Technology’s new Kummer College of Innovation, Entrepreneurship and Economic Development.

Valentín-Sívico’s research focused on finding cost-effective ways to expand broadband access in rural communities while leaving room for growth.

Casey Canfield, an assistant professor of engineering management and systems engineering at Missouri S&T, was Valentín-Sívico’s adviser for five years. Canfield told St. Louis On The Air that their work defined rural areas as places that are struggling with broadband access mostly due to population density, not just affordability.

“If you can serve that underserved population, that can kind of get the ball rolling,” Canfield said. “That could potentially make it easier to reach [the] unserved population later.”

During his research, Valentín-Sívico created a toolkit meant to help communities expand their broadband access by themselves.

“One of the goals,” Valentín-Sívico said, “is to provide tools for these community-driven broadband projects so they could understand what the different requirements [are] and what community costs they should take into account when identifying what program infrastructure could serve their needs.”

The dissertation also questioned whether individual communities should be responsible for initiating their own broadband programs or if the Regional Planning Commission should play a bigger role.

“Is [broadband] something that the Regional Planning Commission should be focused on,” Canfield asked, rhetorically, “[or] is that someone else's job? Is it a public-sector problem? Is it a private-sector problem? It is unclear whose job it is to solve this.”

“There is a cost associated with waiting,” Canfield said — opportunities missed before broadband access arrives.

Canfield said everyone — including those living in cities — would reap the benefits of expanded rural broadband access. “There's a lot of economic development potential in rural areas that could increase the state's GDP,” she said.

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is produced by Miya Norfleet, Emily Woodbury, Danny Wicentowski and Alex Heuer. Avery Rogers is our production assistant. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr.

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Avery is the Production Assistant for "St. Louis On The Air" at St. Louis Public Radio.