Our View

A recent study presented to the Joplin City Council shows where there are gaps here in terms of households and businesses being able to afford or access internet services.

It suggests that many residents struggle when it comes to the internet. In particular, 71% of Joplin residents have broadband internet — well below the national average of 87%. Approximately 13% of surveyed residents said they can’t afford the products that would connect them to the internet. Another 10% said they don’t have the internet at all, instead relying solely on their cellphones for connectivity. Nearly everyone — 98% — said the internet options in Joplin are too expensive.

If the data itself doesn’t give you pause, this statement from one of the researchers might. Doug Dawson, president of CCG Consulting, the North Carolina-based firm that did the analysis, put it bluntly: “Joplin is not sitting here ready for the future.”

Yikes.

The internet plays a central role in our ability to live, from how we work and go to school to how we can receive medical treatment. If anything, the COVID-19 pandemic — which forced us individually into isolation, even if it was temporary — has shown us that the internet is a critical tool that is increasingly valuable to the way we operate as a society.

How will Joplin grow and thrive if it’s not prepared to better accommodate this service, which has moved from a luxury for the few to a basic need for all?

The report offered solutions that would carry a range of price tags and accomplish a variety of goals. We don’t think a clear path forward for the city is needed immediately, but something should be decided within the next few years if Joplin wants to be ready for the future.

The study was the result of a steering committee appointed by the City Council that established internet access as the top priority if Joplin wanted to join the Smart Cities initiative. Regardless of whether the council opts to pursue a Smart Cities designation, the committee was smart to prioritize this issue and force it to the forefront of our conversations of how best to take Joplin into the next decade.

Now, the City Council would be wise to continue those conversations, keep this issue as a priority and explore all possibilities to improve internet access, reliability and affordability for residents.

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