I had the honor of chairing the Interim House Committee on Broadband Development. In this capacity, I have traveled throughout the state of Missouri hosting town halls to determine what the issues are in each corner of the state. We have a lot of work to do in 2022.
This e-newsletter includes the prepared text of remarks I made to the House committee reviewing the use of federal funds entering Missouri in 2022. From that point on, Governor Parson is asking for $ 401 million in Federal funds sent to Missouri through ARPA legislation be dedicated to expanding high-speed Internet access across Missouri. I fully support this plan and will keep you updated on the status of this request as we approach 2022 and the next legislative session.
Testimony before the Missouri House of Representatives Subcommittee on Federal Stimulus Spending
Mr. Chairman and members of the committee:
Louis Riggs, representing the 5th District, which includes all of Marion, all of Shelby, and part of Monroe County in northeast Missouri.
I chair the Interim Broadband Development Committee.
The President has requested that I provide an update on our progress and it is a pleasure to do so.
To date, we have held town halls across the state of Missouri, starting in June, through this week at Poplar Bluff and ending in October at Eminence. In order to achieve a good geographical balance, we have held town halls in Palmyra, Albany, Kansas City and Independence, Springfield and Ava, Ashland, we collect monthly testimonies in Jefferson City, town halls in Florissant and St. Louis City on the Harris-Stowe State University campus, Perryville, Poplar Bluff and in October, Eminence.
We’ve heard from dozens of stakeholders and suppliers across Missouri, and we’ll hear from many more in October. We started with State Broadband Director Tim Arbeiter in June and will end our testimony with him in November as there have been so many developments at the federal level since we last heard from him in June. .
Every member of the Committee mobilized to organize town halls and a number of our colleagues in the House and Senate also attended and participated in town halls.
Our town hall formats have been straightforward with stakeholders and suppliers: where are we now, where do we need to be and what steps can we take to get there? In the North-East, our town hall has decided to create a regional steering committee which meets at least quarterly and which brings together service providers, elected officials, economic developers, educators and other stakeholders. Our goal is universal access and our suppliers are fully cooperative in making us aware of their plans and areas of focus. I attended a vendor-hosted meeting last month where commissioners from four northeastern counties were able to dig down to street and gravel road levels to consider how long it would take to reach these dwellings. last mile access. The supplier was able to provide information regarding approximately how much it would cost and approximately when it could reach these areas. I am cautiously optimistic that other regional groups will emerge and have similar spirit meetings, literally and figuratively.
We’ve covered the same themes all over the state of Missouri: What are our issues with access, speed, and affordability? Missouri has been ranked 41st in access for the past two years, but with the addition of federal funds it has dropped to 32nd. We were as low as 49th in speed over the past two years, but improved in the bottom 40 during that time. While this is encouraging, there are still several hundred thousand homes in Missouri with inadequate internet connectivity, including 23% of all Missouri K-12 students at the start of this school year. COVID has exposed our online education issues and shortcomings in telemedicine resources and these issues remain to be addressed.
We’ve also started statewide conversations on a hitherto overlooked topic: digital literacy. We assume that because we live in the internet age, everyone understands how to use the internet. This is not the case. With almost all of our applications online, there are thousands of Missourians who don’t apply for jobs that are missing because they don’t know how to set up an email account or upload a resume. Goodwill Industries in Kansas City told us that they literally equip vehicles with dedicated computer terminals to roam neighborhoods and teach people how to build an online profile. There are several nonprofit agencies in the Kansas City area that basically go door to door to help with digital literacy so that residents can access the internet for telehealth doctor visits as well as to help solve labor issues. The Kansas City Public Library and the Mid-Continent Public Library are providing resources and awareness to further assist this effort and the Kansas City Mayor’s Office is fully committed to this effort.
Rural libraries told us that they perform similar functions with their Internet “hot spots” and continue to provide such services now and for the foreseeable future. Secretary Ashcroft is engaged in a pilot project to equip Missouri’s approximately 350 public libraries with the capacity to solve workforce issues, such as proctored exams for industry certifications, as well as provide HIPAA-compliant spaces that will allow libraries to host virtual doctor visits. This will reduce the costs of transporting residents to remote medical clinics and hospitals and improve the delivery of mental health services across the state. Not everything is pessimistic there, but there is still a lot to do.
A common theme we’ve heard is that existing FCC cards are a disaster, and they are. These maps are out of date when published and do not give an accurate picture of the location of Internet resources. There is a large consensus that the state will have to take on its own mapping tasks to determine where broadband is or is not. Other states have carried out and succeeded in such projects. West Virginia immediately comes to mind.
We’re also hearing a consensus that the State Broadband Office and the State Broadband Fund are doing exactly what they’re supposed to be doing. We know that the State Broadband Fund, which consists of matching funds for use by vendors, had a 7: 1 ROI, which means it attracts $ 7 in follow-up capital for every dollar spent by the state of Missouri. We’re also hearing a consensus that the state challenge process works to ensure that those who need it most are those who get broadband first. While we want competition, we don’t want to build too much in areas that are already served. The State Broadband Office has served us well and has an admirable track record, but at the moment the office is actually an officer — Tim Arbeiter. Tim needs help, and that means full time staff, number to be determined.
We also hear a consensus that urban and rural areas share several commonalities: affordability is an issue, digital literacy is an issue, slow speeds are an issue, and low use of emergency funds for broadband. is a problem. We’re also hearing a consensus that we can send as many hotspots as we want to unserved areas, but that doesn’t mean they’re working. The lack of a decent signal defeats the very purpose of sending students home with tablets to do their jobs when their hotspots aren’t working because they can’t find a turn signal. decent cell phone to work with in the first place.
We’re also hearing a consensus that everyone who provides service in Missouri wants this to happen much sooner rather than later. Nobody thinks speeding up the broadband expansion schedule is a bad idea. However, we are also hearing a consensus that federal officials have thrown a lot of money on carriers entering Missouri, doing the bare minimum to check the box that their area is “served” and determining if the areas are actually. served or not. When out-of-state suppliers freeze in-state suppliers through reverse auctions where they take the lion’s share, promise a lot, and deliver little, it negatively impacts progress in this process. State and frustrate the lives of thousands of people who have been promised that deliverance is at hand. This is not the case. We hear a consensus that the state needs to double ensure that all funds sent to providers do exactly what they are supposed to do when they are supposed to be done where they are supposed to be done.
Our committee is compiling evidence for the report which is due by the end of the calendar year. We plan to meet in November to hear the final witnesses and spend some quality time reviewing what we have learned in order to build consensus around our recommendations. The last broadband omnibus bill was my HB 1768, which we passed unanimously through House 147-3 and the Senate. We all realize we have a chance to get it right and with all of the federal funds now pouring into Missouri, 2022 is the best year to accomplish so much with the one-time funding that we see from all sources.
Thank you again for allowing me to testify on the work of this committee, which is far from over. I will be happy to answer all of your questions at this time.
It is an honor and a privilege to serve you. God bless you, God bless the State of Missouri, and God bless the United States of America.