The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

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April 20, 2012

Coordinating council debates future of broadband in Missouri

JOPLIN, Mo. — Back in 2009, Gov. Jay Nixon's made a pledge to expand and enhance broadband accessibility throughout the Show-Me State so it be accessible and affordable to all.

Slowly, that pledge is turning into action plans, including here in Southwest Missouri.

For the final time, members of the Harry S. Truman Coordinating Council — which has local reps from a number of key areas, from internet providers to utilities, private and public businesses as well as public services — met Friday morning to discuss the finalized strategic plan for the area.

“We have some work to do but we are moving toward an end product,” said Harry Rogers, director of the council.

The Harry S. Truman council, created last March, is one of 19 organizations created to study and come up with a final report concerning broadband strengths and weaknesses within their selective state regions. “We really think that this is going to help us format the future for broadband in Missouri,” he said.

There's a slight sense of urgency, since Gov. Nixon has set an ambitious goal of increasing Missouri's broadband accessibility from an initial level of 79 percent to at least 95 percent by 2014.

“This has to be done,” said Tim Haithcoat, program director for the Missouri Geographic Resources Center, about the region's need to expand and improve broadband accessibility and capability. “The governor has likened it to to that of a railroad (back in the 1800s) – if (a community) didn't have a railroad station or railroad stop, (that community) didn't grow. If you didn't have an on-ramp to an interstate highway, there wasn't growth.

Easy and cheap access to a reliable and powerful broadband source, he continued, “is the new highway. If communities don't build an on-ramp to this highway, they will lose.”

Haithcoat said the Harry S. Truman region, consisting of Jasper, Newton, Barton and McDonald Counties, “is better off than many of the other regions in the state in terms of coverage.” In some areas of the four county regions, there are eight broadband providers to choose from.

However, “there are some unique issues because of the rural and urban mix you have here. You know, you have a Joplin piece and then you have an 'outside Joplin piece, and different ways in serving that. So I see that as a challenge.”

Last year's May 22 tornado made have helped in refocusing the area's attention toward broadband access, particularly after seeing what a paramount role the Internet played in the disaster's immediate aftermath.

“I think you've been refocused by the events that have occurred,” he said. He sees Joplin and the surrounding region positioned to take more advantage of opportunities that will help the region rebuild, reinvest and possibly even reinvent itself.

“I think (the focus) hasn't shifted,” Haithcoat said. “The focus is the same, but the intensity of the focus and the will to pursue it has, I think, changed.”

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