Rural Missouri and Illinois get $40 million for fast internet

Nearly $40 million in federal money will flow to rural counties in Missouri and Illinois to build high-speed Internet networks, US Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced Thursday.

Most of the funding comes in the form of soft loans from the Department of Agriculture; Some are part of a grant from the ReConnect program established by Congress in 2019.

“Many parts of the country today still have limited internet access in terms of upload and download speeds that simply don’t allow for multiple uses, don’t allow for distance learning and telemedicine, don’t allow businesses to expand their market opportunities, and neither would farmers.” enable precision farming,” Vilsack said in a call to reporters.

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Net Vision Communications will use a $12.3 million loan to bring high-speed Internet to 4,587 people, 300 businesses, nine farms and 15 public schools in Barton County, Missouri. Also in Missouri, Chariton Valley Telephone Corp. use a $2.2 million grant to build high-speed Internet infrastructure for 642 people, eight businesses and 94 farms in Monroe and Randolph counties.

In Illinois, the Egyptian Telephone Cooperative Association receives a $25.2 million loan to connect 1,140 people, 22 businesses and 84 farms in Jackson and Randolph counties to high-speed Internet.

More than 1.26 million people in Missouri, or 20% of the state’s population, are reported to have no high-speed Internet access Data compiled by Extension of the University of Missouri. Among the counties served by Thursday’s grant and loan round, Monroe County, Missouri, is the most in need of advanced Internet infrastructure: just 64.64% of households there have access to broadband Internet, according to the university.

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The bipartisan infrastructure measure passed earlier this year includes an additional $65 billion to boost Internet access. Federal officials have not yet divided those funds.

The lack of fast internet can weigh on businesses.

Employees at Swiss Meats and Sausage Co. in Hermann, Missouri, use a slower DSL Internet connection to process credit card transactions and a separate satellite Internet service to connect the tablets they use in the facility’s processing area.

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“It’ll get us through a few days. But yeah, not really well,” co-owner Janice Thomas said of her web service. The company employs around 35 people.

Online orders have increased during the coronavirus pandemic, Thomas said, but the combination of unreliable internet and lack of cellphone service can make it difficult to do business.

“We have a lot of disadvantages in our area because you can’t always be reached,” she said. “There’s a lot more to our business that can be done digitally, but there’s a limit to what you can do with what you have.”

Follow Jeremy on Twitter: @jeremydgoodwin

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